Puck Fair is perhaps Ireland’s oldest street festival – it’s certainly one of the most unusual. Held every year on the 10th, 11th and 12th of August, the Puck Fair takes place in one of the most breathtakingly beautiful areas of Ireland – the Ring of Kerry. The small market town of Killorglin is right at the heart of Kerry, at the foot of the wonderfully named McGillycuddy Reeks, and it is here that 100,000 people meet for a festival that is absolutely like no other.
‘Puck’, or to be more precise, King Puck is the focus of the attention for this wildly exuberant three day fair. And to those not in the know, King Puck just happens to be a goat. A wild goat. A wild goat snatched from the aforementioned McGillycuddy Reeks and crowned king for three glorious days of misrule.
The origins of all this frolicking have long been the cause of debate. The festival can definitely be traced as far back as 1603 when James I bestowed a charter on Killorglin legalising the existing fair. Some claim it was a pre-Christian fertility celebration of the harvest; others suggest it was to commemorate a goat ‘warning’ the town of the impending arrival of Oliver Cromwell’s Roundhead army; or it’s even declared to have been a scheme dreamed up by a young Daniel O’Connell to thwart the British tax authorities in Dublin. Nobody really knows. And, to be honest, few people really care now. All that matters is that, for whatever reason, the Puck fair exists and will exuberantly continue to do so.
The three days of Puck Fair each have a distinct ceremonial function. The first day, 10th August, is Gathering Day when the goat is paraded through the streets of the small town and then officially crowned as King Puck, on his elevated throne. A truly impressive Horse Fair, with travellers coming from all over Ireland, is traditionally held on this first day.
The second day, Fair Day, brings a huge fun fair and a cattle market, as well as an Irish singing contest. On the final day, Scattering Day, the King is ceremonially dethroned and released, probably very confused by all the adulation of the public, back into the mountains where he can regale his disbelieving friends with stories of when he ruled the world.
As well as the pubs being open until at least 3 in the morning each day of the Fair, there are many organised events taking place during the three days. The streets are full of entertainers, face painters, musicians, dancers and fancy dress costumes and there are numerous competitions from bonny babies to Irish dancing. And, everywhere, there is wonderful Irish music; from traditional to contemporary; in pubs, on street corners or in concerts. The music and the merrymaking never stop.
So how do 100,000 get to Killorglin each year? Well, surprisingly it’s not that complicated. The town is on the scenically stupendous Ring of Kerry road – if you’re coming from Killarney it’s via the N72 and from Tralee take the N70. The ferry ports of Cork and Rosslare are not too far away, although Dublin is a longer drive. Killarney Railway Station is just 20 kilometres (12 miles). The nearest airports are Kerry (20 kilometres), Cork (117 kilometres/73 miles) and Shannon (143 kilometres/89 miles). All distances worth travelling for such a wildly inventive, family-orientated festival.
More details about the Puck Fair are available on the festival’s official website.