Some places are defined by their famous festivals. Pamplona is known for its bull-running San Fermín carnival, Buñol for La Tomatina (both in Spain) and Munich in Germany for Oktoberfest. Killorglin, in Ireland, is part of this unique group where the reputation of its madcap festival, Puck Fair, precedes the reputation of the town.
WHAT IS PUCK FAIR?
Puck Fair is an annual celebration whereby a wild male goat (i.e. a puck) is crowned King Puck by the Queen of Puck, usually a local schoolgirl, and honoured from the 10th to 12th of August every year.
On day one, Gathering Day, the goat is brought into the town, parade-style, via the River Laune Bridge to the main square. The goat is then hoisted into the air in a custom-made carriage inside a temporary stand. From his elevated position he looks down upon the humans acting the goat (i.e. living up to the festival’s reputation).
The Puck remains in state for three days and two nights, accompanied in his carriage by food and drink, while the festival’s patrons equally acquaint themselves with plenty of the same. On day three, Scattering Day, the goat is dethroned/abdicates and returns to the wilds while festival goers return to normality from the wilds of this madcap festival. The spectacular fireworks display over the River Laune at midnight of Scattering Day is unmissable.
Gathering Day sees the holding of a renowned Horse Fair, now situated in a field outside the town on the Tralee Road, whilst a Cattle Fair is held on Day Two. The latter is not organised by the Puck Fair committee.
PUCK FAIR ORIGINS
But why a goat, you may ask? Nobody seems to know the origins of the festival. A couple of theories float around, the most common being the story of a goat who alerted the people of Killorglin to the oncoming terrors of the genocidal maniac that was Oliver Cromwell and his advancing army. The goat was thus fêted for his efforts.
The most likely theory relates to the granting of a right, to a local landlord, to collect money for every animal brought into the town for an existing fair.
WHAT HAPPENS AT PUCK FAIR?
In short, everything and anything. If ever a town lets its collective hair down, then Killorglin does so during Puck Fair. For the duration of the festival the thoroughfares are lined with street traders comparable only to a Moroccan souk. Fairground amusements occupy the Fair Green field.
Food stalls are dotted around the town but the artisan food and craft fair at Library Place is a must. Both planned and impromptu music sessions provide the daily soundtrack. Local and well-known music acts play free concerts in the main square every night. Street acts perform traditional Irish music and dance whilst some engage in thoroughly inventive theatrical displays.
Puck Fair doesn’t forget its younger patrons – Daytime is a delight for children, with free entertainment dotted around the town.
Clearly a festival which elevates a goat to a prime position in the community will not be without controversy, from a welfare perspective. Rest assured; the goat is attended to on a regular basis by an independent Veterinary Surgeon and a statement on the festival’s website details this further. Besides, with the pubs open until the atypical hour of 3am, the goat ends the festival in better health than most.
For locals, Puck Fair is a cultural occasion and an opportunity for meeting with returned emigrants. The festival is also an important juncture in the calendar. All things in Killorglin happen either before or after Puck.
KILLORGLIN TRAVEL GUIDE
So what is Killorglin like on either side of this annual occasion? In my slightly biased view, its cosmopolitan creative spirit, dynamic business community and evident scenery make for a great place to live near and an equally great place to visit.
Wedged in between the McGillycuddy Reeks to the south (Ireland’s highest mountain range) and the Slieve Mish Mountains of the Dingle Peninsula to the north, Killorglin is the gateway to the Iveragh Peninsula. Its dream location on the Ring of Kerry and in the middle of the most scenic county in Ireland makes it a great base for visitors.
Within twenty miles of Killorglin you’ll find several golf courses, Killarney National Park, two Blue Flag beaches, an outdoor adventure centre, and a range of holiday accommodation fit for everyone from backpackers to presidents. The town itself sits on the River Laune and has excellent boating opportunities.
Award-winning restaurants serve food which will leave you longing to linger around this foodie’s paradise. Lower Bridge Street should be renamed Gourmet Street as the choice ranges from quality local fare to international cuisine.
Puck Fair is not a tourist trap but an organic local experience which happens to be Ireland’s oldest festival. It’s La Tomatina without tomatoes, Oktoberfest without Lederhosen and San Fermín with a goat. It clearly has cast a magic spell over people given its popularity and longevity. And in a county which is nicknamed The Kingdom, one needs some royalty. Long live King Puck.
GETTING TO PUCK FAIR & KILLORGLIN
Killorglin is on the Ring of Kerry located approximately 20km (12.5 miles) west of Killarney on the N72 road. The N70 road passes through the town from Tralee to Cahersiveen. With most of the town centre pedestrianised for the festival parking is at a premium and entails a couple of minutes’ walk from the outlying roads.
Killorglin’s bus stop is located at Library Place but re-locates to the Fishery Bar & Restaurant during Puck Fair. The following services operate all year:
Killarney – Killorglin – Waterville (279A)
Killorglin – Tralee (279)
A shuttle bus from Killarney to Killorglin operates during Puck Fair.
The nearest airport to Killorglin is Kerry Airport (23km/14 miles) which has direct flights to Dublin, London, Frankfurt, Berlin, Alicante & Faro. The nearest railway station to Killorglin is Killarney.
For other Kerry destinations check out my Places to Visit in Kerry post. Essential Kerry travel information is found on my Kerry, Ireland Travel Guide post and for the rest of Ireland my Planning a Trip to Ireland post is essential reading.