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

Irish Independent - Weekend Review - - ON THE ROAD - SPE­CIAL­IST TEAM

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

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ireland

© PressReader. All rights reserved.