King Puck Irish Town Honors His Goatness

In the town of Killorglin in County Kerry, the reins of power are handed to a wild billy goat once a year. It's an opportunity for the people to let out their inner beast -- and for tourists to party the night away, writes reader Desmond F. Kelly.

The crowning of a king has always been cause for celebration. In the small town of Killorglin in the south-west corner of Ireland, it still is -- with a hitch. The king in question is a goat.

"King Puck" is one of the last regents of Ireland, though his reign is a short one -- from August 10 to 12 every year. Nevertheless, the small Irish town of Killorglin (about 100 km. from Cork) has been crowing King Puck since (officially) 1610. The goat-fawning fair is one of the oldest of Ireland's traditional rural celebrations -- and one of its better known.

Still, despite the fair's fame, its origins are somewhat unclear. One theory has the fair dating back to pagan times. Puck, as the male goat is called, could have been seen as a symbol of fertility for a late summer harvest festival.

The more modern theory is that King Puck is a celebration of the fact that a herd of goats, which had been grazing in the countryside nearby, were scared up by pillaging “Roundheads,” the soldiers of Oliver Cromwell. One goat galloped off towards the town in a state of fear, thus alerting the townspeople to the approaching danger. (A third, and less romantic, version involves legal loopholes, greedy landlords and tax evasion.)

Whatever its origins, it has grown to be an interesting collection of traditions and customs. Some days before the fair begins, a group of the most fearless and strong lads from the town head off into the McGillycuddy's Reeks (as the nearby hills are called) and attempt to corner and capture one of the wild goats grazing there. Bumps, cuts and bruises suffered during the chase are, of course, worn as badges of honor.

While their fathers and brothers are off traipsing through the hills, the young girls of the town compete to be crowned as “Queen Puck.” The competition entails them writing essays and giving interviews about why they want to be queen, and why they think that they are the best choice for the role -- a rather gruelling selection process.

Once the goat has been wrestled down from the heights, he is paraded through the town on what is known as “Gathering Day,” the day before the fair starts. The goat is then placed onto the lowest tier of a three-tiered platform. The Queen then delivers the Puck Proclamation and crowns her new king. The newly crowned king is then elevated to the topmost tier of the platform, there to look down on, and survey his subjects below for the next 3 days. Three days of trading and drinking, and singing, and drinking, and storytelling, and drinking follow -- giving rise to the saying, “Where a goat acts the king, the people can act the goat!”

For the town of Killorglin -- population 1,359 -- the goat festival has turned into a cash cow. More than 100,000 people pass through during the three days of the fair, and festival organizers estimate the event is worth over €6 million to the local economy. Puck Fair is one of the only places, and times, of the year in Ireland that the pubs are allowed to stay open till three in the morning. At the end of it all, the king is dethroned (in a nice way) and returned to the wild to rejoin his comrades on the foothills of Ireland's highest mountain.

Submitted by Desmond F. Kelly in Karlsruhe, Germany

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