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The Puck Fair: An August Revel Not to Be Missed

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Irish EclecticWe welcome August, normally my favorite month of the year, though perhaps not so much this year, as I chalk up another decade milestone, the numerical value of which I shall not divulge.

Suffice it to say I am determined to make this next decade the best of them all, as I celebrate retirement and the prospect of greater travel opportunities for my wife Joanie and I.

A short while down the road, a trip to Ireland with good friends beckons, catching up on a journey stolen by COVID-19. Spanning late September into early October, the trip combines places already seen, as well as new vistas to explore.

With Ireland, there’s no such thing as “been there, done that.” Each sight always brings something new and refreshing to the mind, no matter how many times one has strolled down Dublin’s streets or seen the Shannon’s waves. A promise to my readers: A “virtual visit” awaits in future articles, as I attempt to rekindle for you the magic of Ireland and perhaps sway the adventurer in you to follow my lead.

But it is a prior trip that inspires my words today, and an event I missed then, and will miss once more, but promise to get to at some point before this next decade concludes. That event is the Puck Fair, in the Town of Killorglin, in County Kerry.

Though my surname hails from County Leitrim, I have Kerry roots as well. An ancestor four generations back was born in Killorglin itself, before he sailed off for the backwoods of Canada. Thus, I lay claim to being “a Kerryman,” a sobriquet fiercely defended against all comers as defining the quintessential Irishman, which claim, of course, any of Ireland’s 32 counties can make, but few defend as well as a son or daughter of County Kerry.

Now, back to the fair. The Puck Fair is firmly rooted in pre-Christian practices, and follows closely upon the heels of the premier Celtic festival of Lughnasadh, which we have written of more than a few times in this column.

The tie-in with Lughnasadh, which commences the harvest season, is clear.  A “puc” is a male goat, traditionally a Celtic symbol of fertility.  The Irish name of the three-day festival, which occurs each year from the 10th to the 12th of August, is “Aonach an Phoic,” or “Fair of the He-Goat.” And on these three days, Killorglin, normally your typical small Irish town, comes alive with more than 80,000 revelers from all over Ireland and beyond. 

The fair is whatever one wishes to make of it, depending upon the behavior of the revelers. For many it is a family event, with relatives and friends fondly renewing bonds of kinship and amity. For others it is an excuse to throw off all inhibitions.  For all, it is a unique event.

The event begins with the capture in the MacGillycuddy Reeks, mountains around Killorglin, of a wild male goat. No harm is done to the beast, who becomes the center of affection for the next three days and is crowned as “King Puck” by a local schoolgirl, who has been chosen to be the “Queen of Puck” for the duration of the fair.

There are markets galore, traditionally including a horse fair and a cattle fair, reflective of Ireland’s eons-long fascination with both species of animals.  Vendors, musicians, storytellers, all court the crowds with great gusto. When the fair has run its course, the goat is reverently returned to the wilds from whence it was snatched, no doubt wondering are not his human cohabitants a passel of strange folk? Happier, no doubt, than his predecessors thousands of years earlier, who would have been sacrificed to the Celtic gods at the end of the fair.

The fair suffered a COVID-19 shutdown in 2020 and 2021, but is expected to be back in full force this month. And while it is probably too late to book travel for this year’s event, it’s always a good idea to plan early for the next one!

Longtime Pleasantville resident Brian McGowan was born and raised in the Bronx and is a second-, third- and fifth-generation Irish-American/Canadian, as his immigrant ancestors followed several paths to the New World. Reach him at brian.m.mcgowan1952@gmail.com. He is the author of two books, “Thunder at Noon,” about the Battle of Waterloo, and “Love, Son John,” about World War II. Both are available at Amazon.com.

 

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