Irish Independent - Weekend Review - - ON THE ROAD - FER­TIL­ITY RITE KIM BIELENBERG @KimBie­len­berg

pos­si­bly feeling like a Billy goat has been tap danc­ing on their fore­head.

King Puck has suf­fered some mishaps over the years. Dur­ing one fair in the 70s, the goat was ac­tu­ally sent a death threat in the post. What kind of ter­ror­ist does that?

In the 1940s, the goat faced the pos­si­bil­ity of a ban be­cause of an out­break of foot-and-mouth dis­ease, and a fur­ther out­break in 2001 re­quired King Puck to be car­ried around Kil­lor­glin in a Goat­mo­bile like a pope.

In 1967, some­one had the bright idea to fly the goat to the United States for an event in Min­neapo­lis; but Kil­lor­glin’s hap­less monarch was de­ported be­cause his im­mi­gra­tion pa­pers were not in or­der.

Some­how, the corona­tion of the beast has con­tin­ued year af­ter year, through tu­mults, revo­lu­tions and world wars.

Yes­ter­day, the cer­e­mony was due to be car­ried out by this year’s Queen of the Puck, 12-year-old Ella Fo­ley, from Caragh Lake.

Proudly wear­ing her cer­e­mo­nial robes, Ella tells me she had won the hon­our of be­ing Queen of the Puck by writ­ing an es­say at school, and do­ing an in­ter­view.

Some time ago, se­cu­rity was tight­ened at the base of the King’s lofty throne, as brave young buckos have tried to climb to the top of the stand to seize the goat, as a dare, but they have never suc­ceeded in mak­ing off with him.

No­body is quite sure how this goat shenani­gans started in the first place, and why Kil­lor­glin chose to crown the an­i­mal as their fes­tive monarch.

We do know from the an­nals that the horse

There was no sur­prise in Kil­lor­glin two years ago when Brian McCarthy be­came the first Corkman ever to be hon­oured as Kerry Per­son of the Year.

Few in­di­vid­u­als have done as much to trans­form the for­tunes of a town as McCarthy, who ar­rived in Kil­lor­glin on the sec­ond day of Puck Fair in 1974.

Amid the rev­elry of Puck, few paid that much at­ten­tion to the new as­sis­tant man­ager of the AIB branch as he took up his post.

As one com­men­ta­tor noted, no one, in­clud­ing him­self, would have pre­dicted that within a few years the Corkman would set up a global cor­po­ra­tion, based in the town, and pro­vide more than 1,000 jobs in the area.

Kil­lor­glin is now as well known for the for­eign ex­change and fi­nan­cial trans­ac­tions firm Fexco as the fa­mous fes­ti­val cel­e­brat­ing a goat.

Hav­ing worked in the lo­cal bank branch, McCarthy set up a for­eign ex­change ser­vice for lo­cal peo­ple and tourists in a sin­gle room in his own house in Kil­lor­glin in 1981.

There was a grow­ing de­mand for money chang­ing fa­cil­i­ties at the time, as the Ir­ish pound had only re­cently bro­ken the link with ster­ling.

“Only banks could deal with for­eign ex­change at the time and they only opened for a few hours ev­ery day. I saw the open­ing for a ser­vice 24 hours a day, seven days a week, dur­ing the tourist sea­son,” he re­called in an in­ter­view.

The fol­low­ing year Fexco was formed. It quickly ex­tended be­yond Kil­lor­glin and took in Gal­way, Cork and

Dublin with money and cat­tle fair dates back at least 400 years to the time of King James I, but the ar­rival of King Puck him­self as the cen­tre­piece of fes­tiv­i­ties re­mains shrouded in mys­tery.

Some ea­ger schol­ars gaz­ing back into the mists of time go along with the the­ory that it is a pre-Chris­tian Pa­gan fer­til­ity rite to mark the Celtic fes­ti­val of Lugh­nasa.

Male goats, a sym­bol of con­ti­nu­ity, were wor­shipped in those times, ac­cord­ing to this the­ory. Feast­ing and sac­ri­fices marked the start of Lugh­nasa.

Another leg­end has it that when Oliver Cromwell’s Round­head troops were pil­lag­ing the Kerry coun­try­side in the 17th cen­tury, they routed a herd of goats graz­ing on the up­lands.

The ‘Puck’ broke away and fled to Kil­lor­glin, where its ar­rival in a state of semi-ex­haus­tion alerted the lo­cal peo­ple to the ap­proach­ing dan­ger. Ac­cord­ing to this some­what un­likely tale, lo­cals crowned a goat as king out of sheer grat­i­tude.

De­clan Falvey, a lo­cal publi­can who is chair­man of the or­gan­is­ing com­mit­tee, says: “There was al­ways a boy-meets-girl el­e­ment to the fes­ti­val. It has also been a great re­union for em­i­grants, who came back year af­ter year.”

Johnny ‘Por­ridge’ O’Con­nor, a cheese­maker, for­mer coun­cil­lor and chair­man of the Kil­lor­glin Ar­chives So­ci­ety, is de­lighted to wel­come vis­i­tors from all over the world.

At one stage, dur­ing Puck, he re­mem­bers hav­ing 54 peo­ple in his house. chang­ing ser­vices. Fexco be­came an in­ter­na­tional busi­ness when McCarthy re­alised the po­ten­tial of en­abling tourists from out­side the EU to re­claim VAT on their pur­chases.

From there, the fast-ex­pand­ing com­pany of­fered a range of fi­nan­cial ser­vices, in­clud­ing run­ning the State’s prize bond scheme in col­lab­o­ra­tion with An Post.

The McCarthy fam­ily’s wealth was re­cently es­ti­mated in the Sun­day In­de­pen­dent Rich List at €140m.

Brian McCarthy’s son De­nis is now chief ex­ec­u­tive, while he him­self con­tin­ues in the role of chair­man.

Un­like many ru­ral towns of its size, Kil­lor­glin is not af­flicted by the blight of empty and near derelict shops.

That is hardly sur­pris­ing as the pop­u­la­tion has dou­bled over the past 25 years.

Fig­ures re­leased re­cently by the Gov­ern­ment showed Kil­lor­glin had 2,000 jobs, de­spite hav­ing a res­i­dent worker pop­u­la­tion of just 922.

Many of the jobs are filled by work­ers who com­mute daily from all over Kerry, and parts of Cork. Fexco re­cently an­nounced that it was cre­at­ing 175 new jobs in Kil­lor­glin.

It is not just Fexco and Puck Fair that keep the tills ring­ing in the lo­cal shops.

Ce­line Healy, who set up a bak­ery and deli with her hus­band Jack, says: “Kil­lor­glin is now a pop­u­lar place to come to be­cause it is in the mid­dle of ev­ery­where. It is on the Ring of Kerry and the Wild At­lantic Way, and there­are­great beaches nearby.”

Back in the 1940s, a lo­cal Catholic priest, Fa­ther Daniel Fin­nu­cane, railed against the rev­el­ries at ‘Pa­gan Puck’, and another de­scrip­tion from early in the last cen­tury even went so far as to de­scribe the event as “or­gias­tic”.

At one time, the fair had a rep­u­ta­tion for heavy drink­ing, with pubs re­main­ing open all night for the 72 hours of the fair.

Lo­cals re­call that in the days when the pubs stayed open all night, some tip­plers never made it home or to their lodg­ings, fall­ing asleep where they sat in the bar, and re­sum­ing their drink­ing when they woke up.

At times in the past, the scenes be­came so rowdy, that some sug­gested that the safest place to be was up above in the cage with King Puck him­self.

“Re­cently it has be­come much more of a fam­ily event — and there is a big em­pha­sis on en­ter­tain­ment,” says De­clan Man­gan.

Man­gan, who re­cently stepped down as chief or­gan­iser of the fair, also achieved some renown as Ire­land’s long­est-serv­ing panto dame, hav­ing made his de­but on stage in 1965.

Not ev­ery­body ap­proves of el­e­vat­ing the goat to such heights and build­ing a fes­ti­val around it, but few doubt that it is good for the town.

Over the three days — in­clud­ing the pop­u­lar horse fair on the open­ing day — up to 80,000 peo­ple are ex­pected to have passed through Kil­lor­glin.

King Puck’s an­nual reign may be short, but it is a prof­itable one for his Kil­lor­glin sub­jects, bring­ing in up €7m in rev­enue. No won­der they are so loyal.

Vi­sion: McCarthy

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