It may be a republic, but a king will reign over one corner of Ireland for the next three days after a wild mountain goat was crowned in a ceremony dating back centuries.
Thousands crowded the narrow streets of the southwestern Irish town of Killorglin on Saturday to witness the coronation of “King Puck” on the first day of the ancient “Puck Fair”.
“It’s an old, old festival, held on August 10, 11 and 12 every year,” Puck Fair chairman Declan Mangan told Reuters.
“At one time it was probably mostly a homecoming festival for Killorglin emigrants, but now it is an internationally known event.”
The earliest documentary evidence for the Puck Fair dates from 1613, when a legal charter to stage the event was granted to the local landlord by King James I.
But many believe the event dates from pagan time and the Celtic festival of Lughnasa when feasting and sacrifices marked the start of the harvest season.
“It’s more than likely it’s a Celtic pagan festival that was subsequently taken over by the Norman culture — there was a Norman castle in the town — and that in turn was taken over by the Christian culture,” said Mangan.
“We know it’s been happening in Killorglin for centuries. The central part of the fair is the crowning of the goat, and he acts as Ireland’s only king for three days and three nights.”
On Saturday evening the goat, complete with crown, was hoisted in a specially-built cage to the top of a 50-foot platform in the central square of the County Kerry town.
“It’s certainly different, I’m not sure I’ve seen anything quite like it before,” said Doug Kenworthy, 61, from Illinois, in the United States as he sheltered from the rain beneath an umbrella with his wife Pam.
2002’s King Puck is a rare black and white goat, captured on Tuesday after a lengthy chase across the mountains that ring the town.
The goat was caught by a multinational team made up of five Irishmen, three Frenchmen and a student engineer from Oman. It was led by local man Frank Joy, who has filled the role of chief goat catcher for the last 12 years.
“It took us nine-and-a-half hours to catch him,” said Joy. “We’ll release him after the fair, and he’ll be back on the mountain on Monday night.”
The significance of the goat is also lost in time, although many believe it is a pagan fertility symbol.
Another legend has it that when 17th century English leader Oliver Cromwell’s “Roundhead” troops were pillaging the Kerry countryside they routed a herd of goats grazing on the uplands.
The he-goat, or “Puck”, broke away and fled to Killorglin, where its arrival in a state of semi-exhaustion alerted the local people to the approaching danger.
Around 60,000 people visit the fair over its three days, between them consuming around 200,000 pints of Guinness in the town’s pubs which are packed with revellers enjoying traditional Irish music throughout.
Check out more info on the PuckFair here