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Culture Magazine

No Kidding: The story behind the bronze statue commemorating Ireland's oldest annual festival

The origin story we never knew we needed.

TO AN UNKNOWING bystander, the enduring tradition of the Puck Fair sounds like the plot of a folk horror film from the 1970s. However, every August, in the town of Killorglin, Co Kerry, this unusual ritual continues to be the calendar highlight amongst the local community.

From August 10 until 12, the Puck Fair – Ireland’s oldest festival – is centred around a “puck”, coming from the Irish translation of “poc”, or goat. The exact origins of the Puck Fair are unknown but there are written records of the annual gathering as far back as 1613.

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On the official website for the Puck Fair, it posits that it is “linked to pre-Christian celebrations of a fruitful harvest and that the male goat or “Puck” was a pagan symbol of fertility, like the pagan god Pan”. Another story suggests a connection to Oliver Cromwell. It’s thought that the unexpected arrival of a lone goat to Killorglin was a signal to the locals of an impending attack from Cromwell’s men.  

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On Gathering Day, as the festival’s opening day is known, the wild male goat is captured and taken to the town where Queen Puck will crown it; a schoolgirl selected from one of the local primary schools. Once the crown has been placed upon the goat, thus making him King Puck, he’s placed in an elevated cage – standing approximately 15 meters above ground -  in the town throughout the 3-day festival.

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Staples of the Puck Fair include cattle and horse markets which bring significant crowds to the town. Elsewhere, there’s plenty of entertainment and family-friendly happenings such as live music, puppet shows and parades scheduled across the three days. On the final day, Scattering Day, the festivities come to a close with a dethroning ceremony followed by a firework display. Once the crown has been taken off the goat, he’s returned to his natural habitat.

Screen Shot 2022-11-15 at 18.19.54 Puck Fair Instagram Puck Fair Instagram

To commemorate the fascinating history of the Puck Fair, Kerry-based sculptor Alan Ryan Hall created a stately bronze statue of a goat wearing a crown which you can find at the bridge of the River Laune. Erected in 2001, Hall had previously created statues of filmstar Charlie Chaplin and Daniel O’Connell, in Waterville and Cahersiveen, respectively.

The life-sized depiction of the King Puck statue stands proudly atop a large stone, the sculpture is partly surrounded by the protective railings overlooking the River Laune as you approach Killorglin town. 

thepuckgoatinkillorglinco-kerryireland Shutterstock Shutterstock

Today, the fair continues to bring the people of Killorglin together to carry on the tradition of capturing a male goat and keeping it in a raised cage. Whilst the Puck Fair is enjoyed by many of the locals and people visiting from around the country, there are many who call for the prevention of the festival with concerns about the goat’s welfare. 

countykerryrepublicofirelandaugust15th2019goatin Shutterstock / Kardaska Shutterstock / Kardaska / Kardaska

Furthermore, following a 2-year absence due to Covid-19, the Puck Fair was met with heightened criticisms of animal cruelty given the high temperatures throughout the heatwave that took place last summer.

Much discussion surrounded the festival, and there was even a suggestion of replacing the live goat with a statue which was overruled by the festival organisers who are adamant that the goat is treated with the utmost care of a veterinarian.

The Puck Fair will return in August 2023, continuing a tradition which has endured for over 400 years.



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