Merry in Kerry under King Puck's long reign
THE KING’S College Cambridge student playing the violin – just south of the raucous ballads threatening to deafen King Puck – was giving three local lads ideas. Eorann O’Connor (20) a second-year classics student and her musical friend Bree Wilder (also 20), who studies in Brighton, were collecting “money for university”, the sign on their violin case said.“It’s really expensive now,” said O’Connor, from London, whose family have long maintained a second home in nearby Beaufort. She was being helped by her brother Malachy (10) on the spoons.
One of the three Killorglin lads mused how he too could play the flute and wouldn’t this be a good way to get money next year for college “depending, of course, on Wednesday”, he said, moving suddenly away from the glamorous O’Connor and up the hill towards the goat as the nearness of the Leaving Cert results struck home.
Next year will see the official 400th anniversary of Puck Fair. The fair, in which “the goat acts as king and the people act the goat”, claims to be the oldest in Ireland.
King James I signed its charter in 1613, but many believe the crowning of a male goat, by a 12-year-old maiden, and raising it high over the town in the middle of August bears the imprint of an after-harvest fertility ritual.
The annual tradition is that local man Frank Joy catches the wild goat after an epic chase on the hills overlooking Dingle Bay. This year it was named for Kerry footballer Paul Galvin.
Right up until recent times Puck was a serious horse and cattle fair. It was also a huge hiring fair in which local girls and boys would be sold off for the year to Munster farmers. Later London-Irish builders would scout for labourers. “Business has always been transacted at Puck and it is still a fair not a festival. Things are bought and sold and there are 200 stalls on the streets and a waiting list,” spokesman Nigel O’Mahony said.
The fair is worth a great deal – €6 million – to the local economy. Once measured in the tens of thousands of pints of Guinness sold, Puck is today trying to grow a more Continental, family image.
And, indeed, French accents cross with the lilt of the midlands, and the rich brogue of the Travelling people. Kerry-made Sásta sausages sizzle beside stalls selling crepes, children scream joy at the Bird’s Bazaar fun fair, and the glistening boom-built Library Square plays host to sedate, straight-backed set dancing.
The hottest days of the summer this weekend make Puck more banks of the Seine than banks of the Laune.
But old ways die hard, and these days there is a new wave of emigrants. They make their arrangements on Facebook and Kingston’s beer garden is the smart meeting place.
Noelle O’Riordan (29) has returned for Puck from Dubai, where she works as an air hostess. She had trained in media but is enjoying the career switch. “It’s just the way the jobs are here now,” she says. Months of planning went into this trip, which coincided with a family occasion. “Yesterday was like Christmas Eve waiting for Puck Fair,” she said O’Riordan, who is accompanied by two bemused colleagues from London and Zimbabwe.