No wonder the billy goat's gruff

 

IRA plots, bad weather, sinister bodhrán rumours – King Puck has put up with a lot over the years. This year’s king, Oisín, fared a bit better, but the revellers 60ft below had all the fun, writes KATHY SHERIDAN

YOU’LL FIND no flies on a Killorglin goat. Or his handlers. A historian once described the Puck as the original tourist gimmick.

Being marooned in a cage about 60ft above handler level for 48 hours; being threatened with assassination by the IRA in 1983; his crown stolen; absorbing a gazillion decibels of music from the gigs directly beneath; putting up with the persistent calumny that he’s just last year’s pet goat. Not to mention the theory that his siblings are being rustled for bodhrán skins. Still, Oisín – this year’s hairy, perfectly horned model – looks calm up there, chewing on his hawthorn leaves.

Perhaps he’s plotting his revenge. Or maybe he’s just wrecked. For three days, Killorglin never sleeps, and Oisín is right at the heart of the racket. The fair, says one regular, is about two things: one is the goat, the other the drink. The pubs are open legally till 3am – it’s said to be the last town in Ireland with a blanket 3am licence – and can re-open at 9am. The ones with early-morning “creamery licences” or “fair licences” can open even earlier. And when poor Oisín witnesses the last of the scallies staggering out of the pubs and thinks that’s the end of it for one night, he’s suddenly jerked awake by the dawn arrival of the county council street cleaners. In the hours around midnight, the streets morph from a light, heart-warming, family-friendly entertainment site into a heaving crowd of drinkers, squads of Civil Defence volunteers and a vision of thrashy hell: piles of plastic glasses, cans, packaging from takeaways and the detritus left behind from packed-up stalls.

“By 1am it’s appalling, certainly,” says Declan Mangan, festival director and MC.

The committee – all stalwart volunteers – gave up putting out skips, as they were being commandeered for domestic rubbish. Instead they head out in the early hours with about 10 wheelie bins, followed by a waste disposal company. By morning “you could picnic off the pavement”, says Mangan. And it’s true – if a little late for the startled continentals who come for a look at the goat of an evening. If there’s an upside for the goat, it’s that he doesn’t get vertigo (he’s a mountain goat – duh). He’s been presented with grass from Elvis’s Graceland in Memphis. He’s not contained in a tiny cage with bound ankles any more – there’s standing and turning room now. Nor is he hoisted up there by hand and ropes – as he was “when Kerry men were strong”, in Mangan’s words – and left to dangle in space between four rickety poles held together with six-inch nails.

“God help the goat, but we used to watch him on stormy nights and wonder would he last,” says a volunteer nostalgically, as we eye the sophisticated metal platform.

Meanwhile all around his hilly little Killorglin kingdom, King Puck’s view is of a true, old-fashioned fair – without the rain. After the horses and the cattle on days one and two, come the stalls selling everything from whipped ice cream and Stetsons to spanners, potato peelers and rifle scopes. An old smiley Romanian busker’s version of Jingle Bellson a violin/gramophone rivals the energetic, harmonic mix of Bluegrass, country and Americana of Dr Fox’s Old Timey String Band performing in the plaza – belted out by three musical college-age Lavery brothers plus Brian Corbett and Diarmuid Sheelan, from Castlemaine.

On the main stage, Mangan moves easily from presenting a children’s fancy dress competition to a dog show, while chatting away to the Puck Fair Queen, Kathlynn Coffey, a natural for the job. Refreshingly, she landed the title by writing the winning essay, as well as being from the Killorglin area and by reading a welcome in Polish. Oh, and for being 12. Why 12? “Because the Celtic-style dress only fits a 12-year-old, I think,” says Mangan, whose wife made the dress years ago. Anyway, Kathlynn and her lovely chief lady-in-waiting, Caoilainn O’Sullivan, could give lessons in grace and poise to their older sisters-in-pageant.

Anne Foley, proprietor of the legendary Nick’s restaurant for 32 years, still remembers sitting “on the side of a truck [in the parade] for five years,” being a lady in waiting and finally, cruelly, being pipped for the title. She held it against the winner something terrible, she laughs. Then when her great rival died in recent years, she was glad she had been queen. Foley’s grandmother made the first flag for Puck 120 years ago. It’s the kind of age-old detail in which this fair is steeped.

As evening fell, the time approached for King Puck’s dethronement and the streets, as thy say round here, were “jointed”. As they sang a song about Killorglin, the metal rig revealed its true sophistication as each floor opened up to allow the cage to drop to floor level and finally to be wheeled onto a podium atop a trailer.

In an aura of heavy goat aroma, escorted by marching bands, the queen and her ladies on a float and little girls from Laune Rangers GFC, King Puck was led out of town with “fearsome warriors” (two young boys) standing guard on the back of the trailor. There was sadness in the air as Puck was seen off for another year.

But you had to be happy for him – as long as he doesn’t end up a bodhrán skin at next year’s Puck.