The Puck Fair, an annual festival held in Killorglin, Kerry garnered close attention this year due to the treatment of the festival’s quintessential feature: the goat. Over three days every August, amongst many other festivities, a goat is crowned King of the Puck and throned – by being suspended in a cage over the crowd for the duration of the fair.
This year, the festival fell during a heatwave, with temperatures in Kerry reaching over 25ºC. The heat, paired with the suspension of the Puck King, raised concerns with various animal welfare groups across the country. A spokesperson for the National Animal Rights Association (NARA) commented that “a wild animal, suspended in the air in a cage, is just unacceptable in this day and age. It’s barbaric, archaic, incredibly cruel and an absolute embarrassment to the country.” In their Goat Welfare Statement, the fair’s committee stated that they have “strict protocols in place to ensure [its] welfare and they are overseen and checked by an independent veterinary surgeon.” While the “act of torture” was temporarily ceased, and the Puck King was taken into the shade, it wasn’t long before the festivities resumed and the goat retook its caged position.
For many, the cruelty that occurred during this year’s Puck Fair may be their first exposure to the annual festival, but it has been running for over 400 years. However, the centuries-old origin of the festival is quite hazy. On its website, the Puck Fair notes that the “origins of the fair have been lost in the mists of antiquity.” The most they can gather about its origins are references to an August Fair in some 17th-century sources.
Regardless of its hazy history, the Puck Fair website makes some attempts at adding tradition and lore to the fair. Theories surrounding the significance of the Puck include the links of the Puck to the pagan god Pan, and symbols of fertility. Other stories claim that a wild goat alerted the townspeople of Killorglin to an upcoming attack by Oliver Cromwell. The Puck Fair website concludes its history page with perhaps its only definitive statement: “whatever its origins, the fair has long been and continues to be the main social, economic and cultural event in the Killorglin Calendar.”
This final statement may hint more closely at the fair’s longevity, as opposed to its historical or traditional significance. With no solid cultural or historical significance, there is no limit to what can be added to the festivities, meaning that there is a somewhat endless amount of money to be earned.
The Puck Fair’s lucrative nature may be a bigger impetus than historical tradition to keep it returning to the town each year.
The Puck Fair earns the town of Killorglin and its locals an estimate of €7m in revenue each year, and thus its lucrative nature may be a bigger impetus than historical tradition to keep it returning to the town each year. Of course, the festival centres around the crowning of the Puck King and a Queen of the Puck, but many of its festivities seem to be generic money-making schemes that simply take advantage of the crowd drawn in by the fair.
The fair boasts a jam-packed three-day itinerary, kicking off with a cattle fair, which the Puck Fair website states “is not organised by the Puck Fair Committee.” Events that are organised by the Committee include a variety of music performances almost hourly across three days, as well as puppet shows and bonny baby competitions, all of which could be found at any fair across Ireland.
A market is also set up throughout the town for the duration of the fair, most of which holds little to no connection with the hazy significance of the Puck Fair itself. Many of the wares of the market stalls are generic, showing themselves to be money-making attempts for Killorglin’s main economic event. The Kingdom of Kerry website openly boasts about the “open-air trading” that occurs during the Puck Fair, stating that “you can literally find anything and everything from toys to jewellery, clothing and footwear to name just a few.” It is difficult to find a connection between the Puck Fair’s historical significance and the purchase of new footwear. This raises the question, which is more important to a modern-day Irish festival: tradition or revenue?
This question is substantiated by the allowances made for pubs in Killorglin for the duration of the Puck Fair. Although they may operate under normal Liquor Licensing Acts, which state that pubs may only serve alcohol until 12.30am on Fridays and Saturdays — pubs in Killorglin can serve until 3am on this single lucrative weekend each year.
There are many niche festivals held in small towns around the country which have developed into attempts to generate profits from fleeting crowds.
On close inspection, it seems that the Puck Fair is a thinly-veiled attempt at generating revenue for a small Irish town. This is not a singular occurrence or independent phenomenon in Ireland. There are many niche festivals held in small towns around the country which have developed into attempts to generate profits from fleeting crowds. From the Matchmaking Festival in Lisdoonvarna to the National Ploughing Championships, traditional festivals are often swallowed into attempts to make money in towns that are quiet for the rest of the year.
For many towns, it is the single festival weekend that supports local businesses for the rest of the year.
The effort made by these towns in their single busy weekend cannot really be shamed. For many towns, it is the single festival weekend that supports local businesses for the rest of the year. The Matchmaking Festival, held over four weekends in the month of September, creates €2.5m in revenue for an otherwise dormant town in North Clare.
While the wares and events being offered at these festivals may be generic, and somewhat irrelevant to the festival at hand, at the very least it can be said to support local businesses and small communities across the country. Of course, there is a case to be made for the dilution of the tradition being celebrated at these festivals, but for many, as in the case of the Puck Fair, the tradition may be minimal to begin with.