Puck Fair of Killorglin

Kerry-

Puck Fair
Puck Fair Killorglin, circa 1900 – From the National Library of Ireland’s Photographic Collection

John M. Synge, circa 1900;

‘The greatest event in West Kerry is the horse-fair known as Puck Fair, which is held in August.

If one asks anyone, many miles east or  west of Killorglin, when he reaped his oats or sold his pigs or heifers, he will tell you it was four or five weeks, or whatever it may be, before or after Puck.

On the main roads, for many days past, I have been falling in with tramps and trick characters of all kinds, sometimes single and sometimes in parties of four or five, and as I am on the roads a great deal I have met the same persons several days in succession – one day perhaps at Ballinskelligs, the next day at Feakle Callaigh and the third in the outskirts of Killorglin.

Yesterday cavalcades of every sort were passing from the west with droves of horses, mares, jennets, foals and asses, with their owners going after them in flat or railed carts or riding on ponies.

The men of this house – they are going to buy a horse – went to the fair last night, and I followed at an early hour in the morning. As I came near Killorglin the road was much blocked by the latest sellers pushing eagerly forward, and early purchasers who were anxiously leading off their young horses before the roads became dangerous from the crush of drunken drivers and riders.

Just outside the town, near the public house, blind beggars were kneeling on the pathway, praying with almost Oriental volubility for the souls of anyone who would throw them a coin.

“Mary the Holy Immaculate Mother of Jesus Christ,” said one of them, “intercede for you in the hour of need. Relieve a poor blind creature, and may Jesus Christ relieve yourselves in the hour of death. May He have mercy, I’m saying, on your brothers and fathers and sisters for evermore.”

Further on stalls were set out with cheap cakes and refreshments, and one could see that many houses had been arranged to supply the crowds who had come in. Then I came to the principal road that goes around the fair-green, where there was a great concourse of horses, trotting, walking and galloping; most of them were of the cheaper class of animals, and were selling, apparently to the people’s satisfaction, at prices that reminded one of the time when fresh meat was sold for three pence a pound.

At the further end of the green there were one or two rough shooting galleries and a number of women – not very rigid, one could see – selling, or appearing to sell, all kinds of trifles: a set that came in, I am told, from towns not far away. At the end of the green I turned past the chapel, where a little crowd  had just carried in a man who had been killed or badly wounded by a fall from a horse, and went down to the bridge of the river and then back again into the main slope of the town. Here there were a number of people who had come in for amusement only, and were walking up and down, looking at each other – a crowd is as exciting as champagne to these lonely people, who live in long glens among the mountains – and meeting  with cousins and friends.

Then, in a three-cornered space in the middle of the town, I came on Puck himself, a magnificent he-goat (Irish puc), raised on a platform twenty feet high, and held by a chain from each horn, with his face down the road.  He is kept in position, with a few cabbages to feed on, for three days, so that he may preside over the pig-fair, the horse-fair and the day of winding up.

In Wicklow, West Kerry and Connemara. 1911.

Puck Fair, annually held for three days from the 10th of August in the West Kerry town of Killorglin. Each of the three days received its own name, therefore; the 10th August is ‘Gathering Day’, the 11th is ‘Fair Day’, and the 12th ‘Scattering Day’.  Puck Fair is reputedly the most ancient fair still held in  Ireland.   The fair was granted an official licence by James I in 1603, but the fair was held for centuries before this licence was granted.

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Skellig Night

Cork & Kerry

351-P-J-Beale-Skellig-Night-on-South-Mall
Skellig Night on South Mall, Cork, 1845 (Crawford Art Gallery, Cork

Rev. R. S. Patterson, Chaplain to Her Majesty’s Forces, Cork, 1889;

‘Although marriage was forbidden from Ash Wednesday to Low Sunday* in Ireland, at one time, the priest of the parish in which the rocky islets, called the Skelligs are situated, used to go out, and perform the ceremony on the Great Skellig after Shrove Tuesday. Accordingly, any couple who wished to get married during Lent started for Valentia, off the coast of which the Skelligs are situated.

This fact gave rise in Cork to the custom of publishing rhyming catalogues of unmarried women and bachelors which were called ” Skellig Lists.” These were printed and sold in immense numbers on Shrove Tuesday. Many of them were rather witty productions, the poetasters endeavouring in the most absurd manner to join the most incongruous pairs together.

The printers’ names were never appended to these lists, and of course an opportunity was sometimes taken of venting personal spite, so that advertisements in the local papers are occasionally to be met with, threatening to indict persons who may be discovered to have taken liberties with the names of the advertiser or his lady friend. The lists of the “Pilgrims to the Skelligs” were called by all manner of names, such as “The Paul Pry Skellig List,” “The Corkscrew Skellig List,” “The Simple Paddy Skellig List,” “The virgins of the Sun Skellig List,” ” The Shrove Tuesday on Spiflicator List,” &c.

The custom reached its height about 1840, but has since gradually died away.’

Notes & Queries 

*Low Sunday is the Sunday after Easter