Puck Fair: Ireland’s Oldest Festival
Co. Kerry celebrates the 398th Puck Fair
Every August since 1613 (or possibly earlier) the Co. Kerry town of Killorglin has given itself over to the idiosyncratic joys and celebration of the Puck Fair Festival, and this year was no exception. From August 10 – 12, Killorglin residents and visitors were granted the “Freedom of the Town” by the young Queen of Puck Fair and her goat companion, King Puck, and reveled in three days of entertainment, music, pageantry and unusual traditions.
The precise origins of the Puck Fair are unknown, but an August fair is said to have taken place in pre-Christian times to spur on a bountiful harvest. A favored version of the fair’s history claims that when Oliver Cromwell and his men were ravaging the area, a goat that had been separated from his herd found his way to Killorglin and his distressed presence alerted the townspeople that the Roundheads were close, giving them valuable time to prepare. In recognition, the festival always selects a wild male mountain goat from the surrounding Kerry mountains and crowns him King Puck.
On the first day of the festival, Gathering Day, a traditional horse fair, is held in the early morning hours. Then King Puck is paraded through the town in a lively procession to the main square where he meets his queen. The Queen of Puck Fair is a local school girl, selected for the role based on a short essay submitted about the fair. The 2011 Queen was Muireann Arthurs from Caragh Lake, Killorglin. On Gathering Day, she read the Puck Fair Proclamation in Irish, English, French and German, and the gathered crowd hailed its new king.
For many years, the local pubs were open all day and night for the duration of the festival. Though that is no longer the case, they do remain open until 3:00 a.m., so no festival-goer misses the chance to toast The Puck, as the goat king is also called.
The second day, Fair Day, is the heart of the festival. This year, as in other years, it drew vendors selling everything from jewelry to Jack Russell puppies. Other events included the annual Bonny Baby competition, an Irish storytelling workshop, and a chance to meet King Puck himself.
King Puck is relieved of his duties on the third day, Scattering Day. On the evening of August 12th, the crowd gathered once again in the main square to salute the Queen and King, who paraded back through the streets. As always, the goat who was king was released back into the mountains, but the celebrations continued late into the night.
The fair attracts visitors and performers from all over Ireland and the world. This year, the acts included the Franzini Brothers, a pair of Irish-Italian brothers from Kerry who performed their daring Cannonball Circus; the Joshua Tree, a U2 tribute band; and Fanfare Piston, a brass marching band from France.
In 2013, Puck Fair will celebrate its 400th anniversary, and the festivities are sure to be epic.