In Killorglin, Ireland’s goat king still reigns

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Every year, Ireland’s oldest festival draws a crowd of more than 58,000 for three days of festivities, including the crowning of a mountain goat.

In Killorglin, Ireland’s goat king still reigns

All hail King Puck

To this day, historians dispute the exact origins of Ireland’s centuries-old Puck Fair Festival. Held annually from 10 to 12 August in Killorglin, a small town on the Laune River in southwestern Ireland, the festival is said to date to either the early 1600s, at the end of the Gaelic period, or the early 1650s, when Oliver Cromwell plundered Irish lands during the English Civil War. One of the more popular legends surrounding the festival’s start tells of a lone male goat that broke away from his herd at the foot of the MacGillycuddy Reeks mountain range, alerting the Killorglin villagers about the invading “Roundheads”, supporters of the English Parliament. Records show that the first acknowledgement of the celebrations lies somewhere in between: in 1613, King James I honoured the Killorglin fair in a charter. On the first day of the festivities, aptly named “Gathering Day”, volunteers called “goat catchers” capture a puck – a wild male mountain goat – and bring it back to town. The goat is then placed on a float decorated with purple heather and led into the centre of Killorglin during the Coronation Parade, where he is crowned as king to reign for three days. (Jeff Mauritzen/National Geographic Creative)

In Killorglin, Ireland’s goat king still reigns

A carnival in the streets

After being placed onto a bed of fresh hay, King Puck is hoisted atop the three-tier Town Plaza Stage. Irish dancers, puppet shows and pipe bands occupy the space in front, entertaining the crowd – and his majesty. Before and after the Coronation Parade, the streets of Killorglin erupt with street performers, carnival rides and musical acts. Here, a street performer solicits a volunteer to be a part of his act as the crowd waits for the Coronation Parade to commence. (Jeff Mauritzen/National Geographic Creative)

In Killorglin, Ireland’s goat king still reigns

A moving, musical fest

Killorglin is located in County Kerry, a region with a rich Gaelic ancestry. And with this bountiful heritage comes an enduring love for Kerry music – in essence, traditional Irish folk music, laden with pipes, fiddles and strings – which is played throughout the festival in pubs and on streets. During the day, dancers and musicians entertain crowds near the Town Plaza Stage. At night, the pubs stay open until 3am, overflowing with party goers playing guitars, accordions, fiddles, flutes and bodhrans, one-sided Irish drums. But the open-air concerts that take place every night are the heart of the party. Performances take place on the Stage Truck, which is driven into the town plaza at the end of each day. Pictured here, the Killorglin Pipe Band marches up Lower Bridge Street during the Coronation Parade. (Jeff Mauritzen/National Geographic Creative)

In Killorglin, Ireland’s goat king still reigns

Her Majesty the Queen

Perhaps the most amusing element of the Coronation Parade is the crowning of King Puck. As tradition commands, “Queen Puck” is given the honour and duty of crowning the king. The queen, a local schoolgirl, is selected by writing the best essay about why she deserves to be queen. This year’s queen was 12-year-old Rebecca Coffey. Here, she and her entourage of ladies-in-waiting wave to onlookers as they arrive for the coronation ceremony. To finalize the coronation and officially kick off the festival, the queen reads the Puck Fair Proclamation in Irish, German and French to the cheering crowd below. (Jeff Mauritzen/National Geographic Creative)

In Killorglin, Ireland’s goat king still reigns

Cattle steal the spotlight

The second day of the festival, “Fair Day”, showcases one event in particular: the Cattle Fair. It takes place after the Horse Show, the first of the festival’s street livestock sales. Like the horse sale – where vendors peddle their harnesses, bridles, headgear, reigns and other horse tack – the cattle fair draws crowds of farmers and spectators to circle around sellers and customers haggling over prices. Local farming families constitute the bulk of the cattle vendors, who bring their pen-held cattle to Langford Street just after 7 am. These days, cattle run more than 600 euros a head – a hefty investment in more ways than one. (Jeff Mauritzen/National Geographic Creative)

In Killorglin, Ireland’s goat king still reigns

The dethronement procession

12 August, “Scattering Day”, marks the last day of events, and ends with the dethronement of King Puck. A larger-than-life puppet of the king is paraded out of town, and the goat is released back into the Kerry Mountains. For his last moments as king, Puck sits on the same lofty parade float, which travels from the town plaza across the River Laune Bridge and to the fishery, which acts as a border between the town and the mountain range. The goat catchers then lead the puck back home. (Jeff Mauritzen/National Geographic Creative)

Theo: BBC

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