This weekend Killorglin, in County Kerry, celebrates the annual 2018 Puck Fair, a fun family festival with oodles of entertainment but this County Kerry party weekend has its roots in Ireland's pagan past. 

As part of Ireland’s oldest festival, Puck Fair in Killorglin, County Kerry, a wild goat is crowned and worshipped for the two-day festival, as “King Puck”, a strange tradition which has its roots in 4th-century pagan Ireland.

The author of the book “The Puck Fair – Ireland's Oldest Celebration,” Jerry Mulvihill, a local man, wrote that in pagan times the wild goat would have been sacrificed. Now the goat is the treated like a prince, the center of attention for the weekend.

The festival, which runs from August 10 to 12 and is expected to attract over 80,000 visitors, was said to be linked to the Celtic festival of Lughnasa, which symbolizes the beginning of harvest. The goat was a symbol of pagan fertility.

Crowds at Puck Fair, in Killorglin, in the early 1900s   (Via: National Archives of Ireland).

Crowds at Puck Fair, in Killorglin, in the early 1900s (Via: National Archives of Ireland).

Every year locals captured a wild goat in the Macgillycuddy Reeks, Ireland's highest mountain ranges located close-by, and brought it back to town. Mulvihill writes that one of the best-known goat catchers was Michael 'Butty' Sugrue, once known as Ireland's strongest man.

The “Queen of Puck,” usually a young schoolgirl crowns the goat “King Puck.” The goat is placed in a small cage on a high stand for three days as the locals celebrate with markets, entertainment and pubs stay open until 3 am. At the end of the fair, the goat is released back into the wild.

The young Queen of Puck with King Puck.    (Via: Failte Ireland).

The young Queen of Puck with King Puck. (Via: Failte Ireland).

This year the 401st King Puck was captured in the wooded valleys and hills of Glencar, County Kerry. He will also act as the “King of the Road” mascot for the Wild Atlantic Way tourism route, stretching along the west coast of the country.

Author of “The Puck Fair - Ireland’s Oldest Celebration” Mulvihill, grew up just four miles from Killorglin and has only missed one Puck Fair when he was traveling in Australia. He said locals would rather visit Killorglin for Puck Fair than Christmas.

Crowds on a closed down Killorglin village during Puck Fair.

Crowds on a closed down Killorglin village during Puck Fair.

He told the Irish Independent, "If you're from Kerry, and especially near Killorglin, it's a very exciting time and a real reunion.”

The annual festival attracts visitors from around the country and the world. Day one includes a traditional horse fair in the morning. King Puck is then paraded through the main square where he meets his Queen. The Queen, who wins this honor by writing an essay on the fair, then reads the Puck Fair Proclamation and the new king is crowned.

A statue of King Puck in Killorglin, Kerry.

A statue of King Puck in Killorglin, Kerry.

The second day is Fair Day, the heart of the festival. This sees various types of vendors descend on the town with anything from animals to jewelry for sale. There is also live music and talent contests, a Bonny Baby competition, storytelling and all sorts of other entertainment.

The third day, Scattering Day, sees the King relieved of his duties and returned to the wild after he’s paraded through the town again. Celebrations then continue late into the night.

Read more: Did Ireland’s ancient August Lughnasa games influence the Olympics?

Here’s a short video on Puck Fair made for The Gathering 2013:

* Originally published in Aug 2016.

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Back in the 4th century King Puck would have been sacrificed by the locals to ensure and good harvest.Getty