Animal rights activists are urging organizers of this year’s Puck Fair in Killorglin, Co. Kerry, “to take the live goat out of the festival,” saying tradition can never excuse exposing animals to physical and psychological damage.
Concerns about the goat’s capture and confinement are being raised against the background of the 2013 Animal Health and Welfare Act.
The annual crowning each August of a wild male mountain goat to reign over the town for three days and three nights of revelry dates back at least 400 years, with the first written record of the Killorglin fair dating back to 1613.
The goat is crowned by a young maiden chosen from the community, paraded and then placed in a cage on a 60 ft stand. Stalls line the streets and live music takes place each night in a festival which has broadened in recent years into family events, street entertainment and craft fair.
With pubs open late and tens of thousands of visitors each year, Puck Fair is estimated now to be worth €7 million ($7.6m) to Killorglin annually.
A spokeswoman for the festival said hundreds of years of tradition and legend surrounded Puck Fair and “the goat is the festival.”
This year’s King Puck is an all white goat. It was caught near Castlegregory in west Kerry some weeks ago and has been “acclimatizing” to its environment.
The goat is “royally treated” and overseen by animal welfare officers, she said.
However Aran, the Animal Rights Action Network, says their concerns span the range of the festival – the catching of a wild goat, parading it through the town and exposing it to noise and drunken revelry.
It believes the use of a live puck breaches “the five freedoms” safeguarded in the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013, including freedom from discomfort, pain, fear and distress “and freedom to express normal behavior.”
Aran spokesman John Carmody said: “The puck is a wild animal who doesn’t understand the loud noise, bright lights and thousands of people in front of him, and he certainly doesn’t understand being hoisted into the air and left there to dangle over a weekend.”
Festival goers should “get with the times and take the puck out of the Fair,” he added.
Tradition should never be used to justify animal suffering, Mr Carmody insisted.
The wild-caught goat will be paraded through the packed streets of Killorglin and then hoisted roughly 60ft into the air for a couple of days in varying weather conditions, “where he is then confined to a tiny cage, terrified and confused amongst thousands of party-goers and drunken revellers,” he claimed.
Aran rejected the Fair’s assertion that strict protocols are in place to ensure the welfare of the wild puck, “and they are overseen and checked by an independent veterinary surgeon,”
“No veterinary inspections will ease the psychological problems the animal will endure,” Mr Carmody said.
Asked if displaying the goat on terra firma, on the street, would be acceptable to animal rights activists, Mr Carmody said:
“We would prefer if the goat was taken out of the Fair entirely because we think that regardless of where the animal is kept even on the ground, that the poor creature still won’t understand what is going on and as a result will continue to be confused, terrified and scared,” he said.
Documenting this year’s festival will lead to an accurate overview of the goat being used, and along with footage from last year, it will be presented to the Department of Agriculture “with the hopes of maybe getting the goat out of any future puck fair," Mr Carmody added.
The Puck Fair festival begins on Monday August 10 with a horse fair and will end on Wednesday, August 12 with fireworks and the taking down of the goat.