Nothing compares to Puck
IT'S 2pm on August 10 and a bus load of wide-eyed Puck virgins disembark at the Killorglin showpiece.
They're on Flynn's Shuttle Bus, a new addition in this 400th anniversary year and one that's proven a big hit with tourists. To be fair, there's just no explaining Puck to the uninitiated and so a trip to the mid Kerry town must surely be an eye-opener.
The sun is out and the grassy banks by The Laune are occupied, and Bulmers is the chosen afternoon tipple. Out in the river there's a tentative pony, led into the waters by a freckled young man wearing an army jacket and a knitted brow.
Above, cars and Hiaces roll into town, crossing the famous bridge into the surreal scene. There's Galway, Kilkenny and Wexford registrations, French and Italian too, and they're bumper to bumper.
A makeshift stand advertises Puck Fair Passports, a fiver a head, and there's a queue to boot. Passing Falvey's Bar, traditional music is in full swing and the sounds spill onto the busy street. Dozens of tented stalls lie ahead, a vibrant mix of colour, a scene that's been pictured for generations.
Groups of people are browsing, some seeking a bargain, others just topping up on last year's super-superglue.
There's a sudden flash of orange as several young ladies pass by. False tan applied, they're taking no prisoners and they're watched by eager boys with newly tram-lined haircuts.
Toys, tools and more, there's no shortage of food stalls too. Summer's in the air and the wasps hover around jars of strawberry jam while a lively session sounds from The Kingdom Bar nearby.
Across in The Forge it's Damian Mullane and Donagh Hennessy. Just yards away Bobby Sands looms large over the Republican stall.
Onto Langford Street and there's crepes for sale, Gemma's Hotdogs, The Real Burger and more. Outside Paud Neill's sits Killorglin Baptist Church and cakes and buns are just two euro apiece.
The Two Mikes take to the stage in The Square while in Library Place there's Spraoi Chiarrai and the Currow Set dancers, pristine in their black and gold.
Ray O'Sullivan is in full swing and the popular seanchaí is rolling out the one liners: "They were so posh they had Lucozade in their house and they weren't even sick". It goes down a treat and with sweat pouring from under his tight bowler hat, he's entertaining to the last.
Indeed, for some 400 years Puck has entertained the masses and as young children wearing bright facepaints hold helium balloons, nearby men lean over well worn walking sticks. Their jackets are shiny with use and their caps have seen better days.
They're huddled close and the talk is of horses. They've countless Pucks on the clock and, God willing, there'll be a few more yet.
Puck Fair is alive and well and here's to 400 more.