Homage to the King in the town that likes to push the goat out
For three days in August, a wild mountain goat is plucked from obscurity to reign as King of Killorglin at Puck Fair. KIM BIELENBERG visits the Kerry town as the party gets under way. Pictures by FRANK Mc GRATH
Killorglin is renowned as the only place in the world where a goat acts as king, and the people act the goat. Yesterday, His Royal Majesty King Puck, was due to be hoisted to the top of his 50ft stand to reign over his kingdom in Kerry for three days, surrounded by vast crowds of his adoring, and in some cases somewhat tipsy, subjects.
In days gone by, it was an unwritten part of the work contract of workers and farm labourers in this part Kerry that they be given three days off for Puck Fair.
Declan Mangan, a long-time organiser of the festival, tells me on the bridge over the River Laune in the town that Puck is so embedded in the life of the area that time itself is measured by Pucks in the locality.
The fair is the essential point in the calendar for marking when an event happened.
One might hear someone say that the cow calved two days before Puck; or so-and-so had a baby three weeks after Puck.
And when Kerry are out of the All-Ireland Football Championship before the great goat in the sky has even come down off his throne in Killorglin, the world has truly been turned upside down and inside out.
“Puck is a noun, a verb, and adjective,” says Mangan. When local people talk about pucking, they mean they are having fun.
At times in the fair’s history, the King of Puck has arrived in the town in spectacular fashion.
Pointing over towards the river, Mangan recalls an occasion when, as part of a sponsorship deal with Pekoe Tea, the regal goat was floated down the river on a giant cup and saucer.
Goats, like people, can react in different ways to circumstances around them, but for King Puck himself, the fair must be a truly bewildering experience.
One day, the goat is innocently roaming the rough Kerry mountainous slopes, living in wild obscurity and munching whatever vegetation survives there.
Then, suddenly, he becomes a living monarch, looking down on the hordes below from his elevated stand as the temporary king of all he surveys.
Tommy Tiernan has described the goat stand that sits on top of scaffolding through the fair in Killorglin as Ireland’s Statue of Liberty.
Procuring a wild goat for the festival is no easy business, however, and the involvement of the animal in the festivities has sometimes caused controversy.
Among its many accolades, Killorglin is perhaps the only town in Ireland to have a specialist team of highly-skilled goat catchers.
The post carries a considerable amount of prestige in the locality, and those who fill it play an essential role in the town’s economy.
They go into the mountains to catch the royal eminence, and it has to be a different beast every year. They can spend days looking for a herd of wild goats in the mountains around Glenbeigh, and on the slopes of the McGillicuddy Reeks.
John McGrath, a returned emigrant who works as a carpenter in his other life, tells me he helped to find this year’s Puck three weeks ago with a team of fellow catchers.
“It took seven of us to catch him and there was a lot of running involved,” says the part-time goat catcher, who also organises the horse fair during Puck.
In recent times, animal-rights activists have urged organisers to remove the live goat from the festival completely, arguing that mere tradition should not be used to “expose animals to physical and psychological damage”.
And perhaps because of the criticisms of animal welfare groups, organisers are quite secretive about the whereabouts of the animal in the days before the festival.
John McGrath insists that the goat is well looked after during his reign, before he is eventually released back into the wild at the end of the fair.
“He is checked by a vet regularly to make sure that he is in good health. He is fed on decent grass and well watered.”
According to McGrath, the goat cage has also had an extension added to give the animal more standing room. King Puck now has room to improve.
McGrath is quite sure from the look in the goat’s eyes that he is not suffering any kind of stress.
In fact, despite the concerns of the animal welfare activists, it is quite likely that by the end of the fair, the goat is in much better physical shape than many of the revellers, as they themselves are released back into the wild, hungover — and
It took seven of us to catch him and there was a lot of running involved... he is checked by a vet regularly to make sure that he is in good health. He is fed on decent grass and well watered