What The Puck!

I have Irish blood coursing through my veins, mixing with the English blood of my father and I am extremely proud of the part of me that is Irish.

I grew up listening to Irish legends and fables and learning centuries old songs in Gaelic of battles long since fought.

I am grateful for the flash of red in my hair that came alive when the sun of my youth shone on me. It connected me to my flame haired cousins and solidified my identity.

I am fortunate to have been given the gift of dogged determination, passed down to me through the centuries by my mother who lost so many descendants to famine, poverty and persecution.

I have been fortunate to live in Eire while a child and visited many times. And there are many reasons to visit. The buzz of the cities and the peace of the countryside where the world seems to turn a bit slower. The Irish love the craic, they are by nature warm & friendly people who will go out of their way to make you feel at home.

The Irish countryside is breathtakingly beautiful & in some instances quite unique. The Burren for example is a jewel in mother nature’s crown. 1500 hectares of mosaic habitat, so diverse you will find limestone pavement, grassland, scrub,  woodland, lakes, springs & fen where wildlife flourishes. The limestone pavement is like a lunar landscape, it truly is a sight to behold with life flourishing in every crack & crevice of what otherwise looks like a barren wasteland.

I love Eire and everything about it, but today I have a problem.

There is a small town in County Kerry called Killorglin which has found itself the focus of attention for less than desirable reasons and that bothers me.

Killorglin has hosted a fair for centuries. A fair enjoyed by many people each year. People flock there for reunions with old friends, families take their children for fun activities, trade stands are available for shopping, eating & drinking & everyone has a great time.

Everyone has a great time with the exception of a non-human who is the centrepiece of this event.

The non-human is a goat, a billy who is wild born and is taken from the mountains each year. A young girl is chosen to be Queen of the fair. A short ceremony takes place which involves her making the goat the King of the fair. Placed in a metal cage the goat is then suspended some 50 feet in the air in a scaffold like stand. The goat will remain in the cage for 48hrs.

The origins of the fair have been largely lost but it is thought to have been a celebratory response to a wild goat breaking free from the herd to warn of Oliver Cromwell’s impending invasion. Another theory is that the festival is a pagan ritual which heralds the start of the harvest & that the goat symbolises fertility.

This is the goat’s normal habitat. A stark contrast to the environment the Puck Goat is placed in every year at the Puck Fair.

The goat has spent his life on a hillside far from humans, a social & herd animal & a prey animal too, the experience will surely be terrifying for him.

The noise generated from the festival with some revellers enjoying the craic until the pubs close at 3am is not something the goat will be used to & stuck in his metal cage he has no choice whether he stays or goes. He has been separated from his herd, he is alone and captive.

Puck Fair 1900, the stand has changed as the image below illustrates

The fair organisers and sponsors have come up against a great deal of criticism due to unprecedented weather conditions and concerns for the welfare of the goat kept in these conditions in the heat. A concern I share.

At one point (2022) we were told that the goat would be displayed on the stand despite the weather and that a fan would be provided for him.

Many people are enraged and rightly so that animals used in entertainment continue to be treated as separate from companion animals. If a major animal welfare organisation mounts a campaign of education telling dog owners to keep their dogs out of the heat of the sun for health reasons this advice should surely be taken by event organisers using animals for entertainment or tradition.

Fortunately, fair organisers issued this statement today (2022)

I hope that they will return the goat to his herd.

There are countless alternatives to using a live sentient being in this way. When are we going to stop abusing animals in the name of tradition, entertainment and commerce.

If you travel to Ireland this year or next, and I very much hope you will. Please enjoy your trip. It is indeed a glorious country with so much to offer but mind how you go and don’t get caught up in anything that you would prefer to avoid.

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