FES­TI­VAL FIT

It may get a bit rough and rowdy, but Mark Gra­ham reck­ons Puck Fair will be around for a long time yet

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FUN & GAMES - ayearoffes­ti­valsinire­land.com

The Land Rover Puis­sance and Blos­som Hill blouse bo­nanza at the Dis­cover Ire­land Dublin Horse Show seemed like at­trac­tive propo­si­tions to me last week, but only for a fleet­ing mo­ment. At Evan’s Field in Kil­lor­glin, Co Kerry, I was get­ting kicked by ponies and ridiculed by wily auld trav­el­ling horse traders, who en­joyed the spec­ta­cle of an awk­ward in­ter­loper more than I en­joyed watch­ing them.

Puck Fair is not a glam­orous af­fair, but the towns­folk of Kil­lor­glin will proudly tell you that it’s Ire­land’s old­est fair, with a char­ter that goes back more than 400 years. When it comes to par­ty­ing, Puck’s got pedi­gree.

In­tense merry-mak­ing is the main at­trac­tion, but the mar­ket and live­stock trad­ing has al­ways been at the core of this an­cient Kerry gath­er­ing. Un­der the watch­ful eye of King Puck, there’s still am­ple ev­i­dence of this. You can buy kango-ham­mers, in­flat­able goats, dodgy de­signer goods, mir­a­cle hand-cream, space-age mops, rugs, ro­tis­series, ratchet straps, repub­li­can turf art, pump-ac­tion pel­let guns, ea­gle em­bla­zoned weld­ing masks, Coun­try’n’Ir­ish col­lectibles, mo­bile-phone charg­ers and Sa­cred Heart stat­ues. The gallery of gee-gaws is as con­found­ing as it is im­pres­sive and if you aren’t dizzy enough from gaw­ping at the ar­ray of gar­ish tat, a host of hurdy-gur­dys are on stand-by right be­side the stalls.

En­list­ing a band called “Flog the Dog” to play on the gig-rig does noth­ing for a fes­ti­val that’s of­ten judged as no more than a piss-up tacked on to some tem­po­rary trad­ing and cur­sory an­i­mal cru­elty, but there’s some­thing deeper afoot here. I’ve vis­ited hun­dreds of fes­ti­vals in Ire­land’s smaller towns and there are some com­mon threads. While most of them cel­e­brate a unique as­pect of the com­mu­nity, oth­ers seek to pro­mote the place, hope­fully at­tract­ing vis­i­tors and rev­enue, and many just throw a ses­sion for the buzz. But the im­por­tant ones, the ones that take root, they be­come wo­ven into the fab­ric of the town’s iden­tity, be­com­ing part of what it means to be from that place.

Not just blow-ins

At Bal­lina’s Sal­mon Fes­ti­val, Ard­more’s Pat­tern Fes­ti­val, An Tóstal in Drumshanbo, Writ­ers’ Week in Listowel, Kilkenny Arts Fes­ti­val (run­ning this week­end) and sev­eral other sim­i­lar fes­ti­vals around the coun­try, you won’t just find blow-ins who’ve hit town for the fes­tiv­i­ties; you’ll also find émi­grés who de­cide to hol­i­day in their en fête home-place.

The mem­o­ries of past fes­ti­val week­ends and the chance to ex­peri- ence the old stomp­ing ground with it’s best foot for­ward is a strong draw for a visit home at fes­ti­val time. The flap­ping bunting and brass bands can make it feel like you’re be­ing wel­comed home as a hero. There are some fes­ti­vals, how­ever, that make it im­pos­si­ble for ab­sen­tee towns­folk to stay away; they be­come as im­por­tant to some dis­placed daoine as the well worn county jersey dur­ing the cham­pi­onship cam­paign.

If you man­age to squeeze into Falvey’s dur­ing Puck, it’ll be mostly lo­cal ac­cents you’ll hear, of­ten as dif­fi­cult to un­der­stand as the for­eign­ers, and you can be guar­an­teed that some of these ac­cents be­long to prodi­gal páistí. The equine in­dus­try and our na­tional tourism trade are not hugely in­flu­enced by what’s been hap­pen- ing in Kil­lor­glin for hun­dreds of years, but any­time I visit, I can’t help but ap­pre­ci­ate how very im­por­tant it is to that com­mu­nity.

Find­ing a halt­ing site for Wan­derly Wagon at fair time isn’t easy; Kil­lor­glin goes into cam­per van lock-down. Even­tu­ally, a spot on the far side of the bridge be­hind a Garda bar­rier did the job. Awo­ken by a com­mo­tion at 4am, I sat up and smirked as a bunch of young lads tried in vain to van­dalise the bronze statue of King Puck be­side the bridge. Things can get rough and rowdy, but Puck is made of stern stuff, with good ground­ing and firm foun­da­tions. Some­thing tells me it’ll be in­tact and around for a long time yet.

Safe trav­els, don’t die.

A happy han­dler at Ire­land’s old­est fair

Cool as Puck

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