Just in time for the annual Puck Fair in Killorglin, County Kerry, Maureen sends us her memories of the festival from the 1930s and 1940s. Maureen helps us make sense of the beloved Irish summer celebration. Enjoy!
When I was a girl in the 1930s and ’40s, Puck Fair was a much-loved harvest festival, and always held on the 10th, 11th and 12th of August in Killorglin, County Kerry. We would go with our grandfather, Dan O’Meara, and enjoy all that the fair had to offer a child. There were savory meat pies, crubeens (boiled pig’s feet) and dillesk (a very salty, purple seaweed). O’Donoghue’s Bakery and Confectionary sold a wide variety of delicious baked goods and the best rolls around; as well as all kinds of sweets. Peggy’s Leg (a thick rock candy stick) was my favorite. The stalls sold money balls which were a round candy with red coloring that came off on your hands and sometimes, if you were lucky, a coin was hidden inside. Glendillion’s was known for their delectable, homemade ice cream.
August 10th is known as the Gathering Day, when the horse fair began. We already knew it was fair time because the Irish Travellers’ and Romani had already begun to assemble and mingle among their own people. My mam must have had a reputation as being kind-hearted because the women of both communities would knock on our door as they passed through town. Asking for a pinch of tea and sugar they, in turn, would give her a paper posy or a blessing in return. They arrived in town in their colorful horse-drawn caravans. Some made a living as horse traders and others as skilled tinsmiths.
August 11th is Fair Day since it was the time that the cattle fair was held. On this day, the Irish step-dancers performed and traditional music was heard throughout town. I don’t recall exactly when Perks Amusement’s started there, but it was certainly our first time on a mechanical ride. There were many games of chance, including card games, to be found in the stalls. You could try your luck at Find the Lady (Three-Card-Monty) other shell games with three thimbles and a pea, as well as roulette. You could have your fortune told as well.
August 12th is Scattering Day, the day the festivities began to wind down. The stand, stages and stalls are closed up and taken down, and fair goers begin leave town.
The first time we were allowed to walk to the fair alone I knew I was growing up. It was only my sister, Joan, and me, since Kitty, Dolly and Helen were still too little to walk the four-mile trek from Milltown into Killorglin. Many years later, I was describing Puck Fair to an American friend. I’ll never forget the look on her face! Then, as I thought about it, I understood how strange it all sounded. You catch a wild Billy-goat, having already found a lovely maiden who is crowned Queen Puck. Build a three-tiered wooden tower and have the young girl, resplendent in a white, Celtic gown, crown him “King Puck”. Parade them through town, as Killorglin is declared open to all. Place the puck on top of the stand where he will watch over his subjects for three days. On the third day, the August king is taken down from his royal perch where he has been fed and protected against the elements by an awning. His crown is removed by Queen Puck. Finally, he is released back into the wild.
My friend was appalled and exclaimed “Why, it’s a Pagan festival!” I had never thought about it that way, since the Catholic clergy never voiced any objection to our attending the much-loved, traditional country fair. There was the Oliver Cromwell cover story, after all: A he-goat ran out of the hills to forewarn of Cromwell’s troops approaching Killorglin. Although it did coincide with the Pre-Christian festival, Lughnasa. One of my friends, Maura, lost her mother when she was very young, so they didn’t have much of a Yuletide celebration. She told me “Puck Fair was better than Christmas!”
Check out PuckFair.ie for all things related to the festival. Photos courtesy of PuckFair.ie, thank you.
Maureen Angela Teahan was born in September 1928, Milltown, County Kerry, Ireland. She was the firstborn of a large family. The household included a maternal grandfather and an older cousin, all living in a small thatched home. Maureen was educated at Presentation School and received her Leaving Certification from Presentation Secondary School, Milltown, 1944. She emigrated from Ireland in 1947 and lived in Lawrence, Mass. Maureen worked at the Wood Worsted Mills for two years until they closed and moved their operations south. After that she was employed as a nanny for a year, also in Lawrence. Then she moved to Boston and worked for the First National Stores (FINAST) in the meat department. During that time she met her future husband and left FINAST when she married Patrick Murray in 1952. Maureen raised three children and was active with volunteer work, the church and community. Her hobbies included reading, sewing, cooking and gardening for as long as she was able.