Ireland is known for many things: jovial people, Guinness, folk tales, uplifting music and captivating landscapes. I am quite certain that “Goat King” does not spring to mind when people think of ‘The Emerald Isle’. I know it certainly did not for me. Now, after stumbling into one of Ireland’s oldest Fairs, Ireland will be forever in my mind inexplicably linked to goats. The Puck Fair is where a goat is crowned as king for three days, then dethroned and released back into the mountains.
The festival is located in the small town of Killorglin in County Kerry. Upon arriving, I was greeted with the bronzed statue of King Puck, a mountain goat who had a Mona Lisa smile on its lips and a glorious crown on his head. The statue was perched upon a rock boasting a beautiful backdrop of the Laune River with a viaduct leading into the town of Killorglin.
I joined the small crowd meandering through the streets. I was surrounded by an assortment of coloured townhouses that led me towards the town centre. In the town square, suspended inside a cage a few metres high stood a live goat playing the part of “King Puck”. The goat, with a crown on his head, sauntered proudly in his cage and bleated to his constituents wandering below.
Nearby I saw a young girl adorned with a tiara and wearing a traditional white Celtic gown. She had been bestowed the honour of being crowned ‘Queen of King Puck’ for the duration of the fair. She was weaving her way through the streets that were littered with stall venders selling their wares. There were rides, livestock and traditional Irish live music and dancing for the festival goer’s entertainment. There was an ambiance of excitement and enthusiasm throughout the town.
The fair runs annually on the 10th, 11th and 12th of August. Like many traditions, the origins of this fair are not quite known. Some claim that it traces back to as early as the 1600’s. A local folklore song called “An poc ar Buile” (translated as ‘the mad puck goat’) tells the legend of a rogue mountain goat saving the town of Killorglin from an impending arming ready to attack the town. People have speculated that this song refers to Cromwell’s army during his raids in the 17th Century. Others have contested that the fair actually originated from Pagan harvest festivals.
No matter the origins, locals of Killarney seem to love their annual 3 day fair and I definitely enjoyed partaking and experiencing this ancient tradition.
No goats were harmed at this festival.