Tuesday 24 April 2018

Meet the first family of Puck

Pat, Christine and Laura Healy are all involved in the running of the annual Puck Fair in Kerry

A typical Puck family: Christine, Pat and Laura Healy are all involved in the fair. Photo: Don MacMonagle
A typical Puck family: Christine, Pat and Laura Healy are all involved in the fair. Photo: Don MacMonagle
Andrea Smith

Andrea Smith

The Healy family describe themselves as a "typical Puck family", and say that in Killorglin, Kerry, regular life is described as happening either before or after the annual Puck Fair. Pat and Christine Healy are involved in the festival, as is their daughter Laura. Pat is a well-known personality around the town with his fabulous moustache and beard, which has seen him being nicknamed "Handlebars".

"If I have to introduce myself, it's easier to say that Handlebars is my dad rather than Pat Healy," says Laura, no shrinking violet herself as her hair is usually dyed a vivid shade of reddish-pink. "The beard was added when he retired from the Gardai 13 years ago."

Pat has worked at Puck Fair since 1978, and is head of a team responsible for safety, traffic flow and equipment. "It just gives my wife and daughter an excuse to exercise more authority over me," he laughs, when asked what it's like being involved as a family. "So I just have to work harder at ignoring them. I have seen the festival grow from what was a fairly wild three days and nights into a friendly, well-organised family festival. It is steeped in tradition and culture, attracting people from all over the globe."

Christine and Pat fell for one another as teenagers in the early 1970s. Although she grew up in England, Christine came over to work at the Gougane Barra Hotel during the summer holidays. She noticed Pat because he was a great dancer, and he noticed her because, well she "looked good in hot pants". "We became friends fairly quickly," says Christine. "A big factor may have been that Pat had access to a car for travelling to the dances and ballad sessions around West Cork. If that old Morris Minor could talk? Patience is not a quality that he has much of, but he has everything else and gives the best hugs."

Birthday boy Pat, who turns 63 today, grew up in Ballingeary, Cork, where he was a bit wild and adventurous and wasn't that enamoured with school. He's the eldest of Joan and the late Jerh Healy's five children. His mum is 93 and has Alzheimer's, and is very happy in a nursing home in Churchtown, Cork.

Pat became a garda in 1973 and moved around various counties and positions. He was stationed in Killorglin in 1986 until his retirement in August 2004, and now does a lot of voluntary work in the community. "We lived in the Garda station in Killorglin for a few years," Laura recalls. "Birthday parties were great fun with the other guards popping in for cake and all my friends ending up locked in a cell - temporarily."

Christine (64) and her younger sister Anne grew up in Hanwell, London. Their late dad, Mick Fitzgerald, was from Kerry, while their mum Bridie is from West Cork. Bridie retired at the age of 90 from Sainsbury's, where she "helped old people pack their bags". "Mum also has Alzheimer's but is very happy in a nursing home in West London,'' says Christine. "People pop in to see her with cups of tea, jelly babies and Maltesers." Christine made her career in banking, and decided to take a sabbatical and come to Cork. She got an accounts job in Ballingeary and never went back to the UK. She now works part-time in the international payroll department of Fexco, Killorglin, and is treasurer of the festival. "Apart from the physical attraction, Christine is very grounded, sensible and yet has a fun approach," says Pat. "She proved than when she danced on stage dressed as the back end of the cow in the local panto. She suffers from 'Cinderella syndrome' though, and has to go home to bed come midnight, sometimes when the session is only beginning."

Christine and Pat tied the knot in Ballingeary in 1983, and then Laura (32) and Gearoid (29) came along. Gearoid is known as Rodi because Laura couldn't pronounce his name initially and her version stuck. "Becoming parents was brilliant," says Christine. "Laura and Rodi fought like cats over anything, but would close ranks if one was singled out for correction. Laura is gorgeous and bubbly, and is also caring to a fault. Rodi is fantastic too, and when he was younger he worked as a steward for the festival and, as he got older, in various pubs in Killorglin. He lived in New Zealand for a year, giving the three of us a reason to go there on a long holiday."

Laura and Rodi both studied social care and are now working at Fexco. Laura is a team leader in a contact centre, and also has the busy role of event controller at Puck Fair. She also looks after the running of the information office at the fair and the communications office. Highlights of this year's festival include musical entertainment on the town square stage, children's entertainment, market stalls, street performances and a host of activities for all the family. Now over 400 years old, the festival revolves around the coronation of a wild mountain goat, known as 'King Puck', who is crowned by The Queen of Puck; traditionally a young girl from a local primary school.

"I think the three of us being involved makes it easier at home," says Laura. "We can help each other and hop problems off each other if we need to, and can usually come up with some form of a solution. Also, Mom knows that Dad and I are out and about for a lot of it, and is great for making sure there's food and clean clothes to keep us going."

Puck Fair 2017 will run from August 10-12. www.puckfair.ie

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