Monday 21 October 2019

Puck up a pole is not animal cruelty, it's a harmless bit of fun

Killorglin’s King Puck is well-treated and well-fed
Killorglin’s King Puck is well-treated and well-fed
Lorraine Courtney

Lorraine Courtney

Next Monday we will put a goat up a pole here in Killorglin. He will be cosseted and royally fed on cabbages. For three days and nights his 100,000 subjects will cavort below him.

We've done this for longer than we can remember, but the Animal Rights Action Network (ARAN) wants to take King Puck out of our fair.

John Carmody said: "ARAN is urging the good folk of Killorglin to stand with us and compassionate people across Ireland who now agree that tradition should never be used to justify animal suffering.

"The puck is a wild animal who doesn't understand the loud noise, bright lights and thousands of people in front of him, and he certainly doesn't understand being hoisted into the air and left there to dangle over a weekend.

"We're encouraging festival-goers to get with the times and take the puck out of the Fair, because if you wouldn't do it your dog, why do it to a goat?"

Detractors have always maintained that Puck is a barbarous relic of an uncivilised past, the equivalent of bear-baiting or cock-fighting. Puck Fair is definitely historic, and there are loads of theories about its origins, none of them entirely convincing.

One is that a goat from the hills warned the people of the approach of Cromwell, but Cromwell, prolific as he was, cannot have been everywhere in Ireland in 1649.

Another is that the goat may be the remnant of some pagan festival. Certainly, Killorglin's fair is old and it's all an unbroken, unique tradition with bundles of history on its side.

Naturally, it has become something of an annual lark to try to ban King Puck. In fact, it very nearly happened before. The Department of Agriculture contacted the festival organisers a few years back, insisting that the goat should be given a flock number and tagged so that it would comply with EU red tape and regulations.

Happily, TD Michael Healy-Rae got involved and put a stop to this piece of nonsense, but year after year busybodies still try to intervene to deprive our most famous fair of its icon.

There has always been a wide hypocrisy around the kinds of animal cruelty where intervention is deemed appropriate. You see, in some ways, western culture is more animal-centric than before. Pets have their own accessory ranges and daycare facilities and the internet appears to exist mainly as a platform for adorable animal antics. But browsing for cute images online does not always translate into offline kindness. Animal cruelty and abandonment are at record levels. Animal rescue charities are overwhelmed and donations are under pressure.

It's a very human convenience to make distinctions between lovable companions and supper, as the scandal over horse meat in burgers showed us. Likewise, we draw comfortable lines between foreign outrages and domestic necessity. We hate bullfighting in Spain and whaling in Japan, while continuing to eat eggs from hens that have spent their lives crammed in tiny cages and using medicines that have been viciously tested on animals. Meanwhile, we're surprised when animals act like animals, whether that be scavenging in our bins and bird tables or attacking a human. This shock reveals a grandiose assumption that animals are simply less sophisticated versions of ourselves. They're not.

All last week we mourned Cecil, the beautiful lion. The dentist who killed Cecil became an international focal point of anger and hatred that was out of any and all proportion to what he had done. All this happened as terrible wars were being waged in the Middle East, as women were being raped and as boats in the Mediterranean sank with their loads of desperate migrants. Those people have names, they have thoughts and emotions and feelings far more complex than what Cecil had.

Their individual lives are worth far more than Cecil's or a Kerry goat's.

Puck is about local horse farmers feigning outrage at prices, garish lights and hotdogs. It's about drinking warm beer, funfair rides and children eating candy floss. It's about commercialism, pagan memories and King Puck chewing his hay serenely. It's about three summer days that bind our community in Killorglin tightly together.

I respect people's right of protest, but it's a bit absurd to protest about a well-treated goat that is released unharmed when there are genuine instances of animal and human cruelty out there. Coming down hard on an event like Puck is puritanism on stilts. Some spectacles are worth preserving.

Irish Independent

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