August 15, 2013. Doolin, Ireland – As far as I can tell the Puck Fair hasn’t changed much in 44 years, but I sure have.
This was the 400+ anniversary of the Fair. The + is important. Four hundred years ago King James granted a formal charter for the Fair, which had already been held annually in Killorglin for many years before that, just how many no one knows.
The Fair also involves a goat because, legend has it, a wild goat wandered into town hundreds of years ago and warned the townsfolk of the approach of the feared Oliver Cromwell. Since then a wild goat has been captured in the hills outside of Killorglin before the Fair and enthroned as King Puck for its duration. His throne is an enclosure suspended above the main square, the focus of most of the Fair’s festivities. At the end of the Fair, he is lowered and escorted via a procession (more about that shortly) out of town and returned to his home in the hills.
As you can tell from the above description, the origins of the Fair, both date and creation story, are murky. What we do know is that it is held on the same dates every year – August 10-12. Another important element of the Fair, and probably its original raison d’etre, are the horse and cattle market. People come from all over to buy and sell horses and cattle on a closed off and smelly street. Other important elements of the fair include family reunions, gatherings of old friends from the area who have moved away, vendor stalls on the streets selling food, trinkets, etc., music performed on several stages and in bars on the square and nearby, and perhaps most important of all, serious drinking.
Forty four years ago, I arrived in town after the procession marking the formal close of the Fair, but in time to hang out in the bars which are allowed to stay open late on this last day, 4 am instead of 2 am. I think the bars closed even later when I was last here since I remember stumbling out on the street after closing into the first light of dawn.
This year, I arrived before the procession and was able to walk around the square and the closed streets where the vendors were set up and watch the procession. It was quite a sight, sort of like a small scale version of the Venice Beach boardwalk on a summer Sunday afternoon, except with a goat and without the skate boarders. Also the procession included a band of pipers (come to think of it, I may have seen pipers on the boardwalk a few years ago).
After the procession at about 6 pm, we started making the rounds of the bars, including the bar where I think I hung out all night with the tinkers 44 years ago (Falvey’s, one of the most popular bars in town). In most of the bars musicians played traditional Irish music (though I did hear a Bob Dylan tune or two).
So, this is the difference between 44 years ago and now – by 9 pm (before the Johnny Cash tribute and the midnight fireworks) I had had enough to drink (two beers does it for me these days) and was ready to get away from the crowds and the noise. I think that this is a personal thing with me. There were lots of people in the bars in their 60s and older – though most were significantly younger – but I just don’t have the desire to hang out in bars the way I did 44 years ago. As a result, I didn’t have the kind of interactions that were such an important part of my earlier trip. On the other hand, I was hanging out with my wife, Katherine, and that is usually enough for me these days.
I guess that the Adventure Geezer was more into being a geezer than an adventurer that day. I had fun but wanted to head back to our very peaceful and gracious hotel, the Ard na Sidhe, outside of town and get a good night’s sleep in preparation for our seven mile hike through the Gap of Dunloe the next day.
More about the hike and the hotel tomorrow or the day after (assuming that I can find a good internet connection out here on the far western edge of Ireland).