The Legend of Puck Fair

Extract from Legends of Kerry, by T. Crofton Croker and Sigerson Clifford, published by The Geraldine Press, made and printed by the Kerryman Ltd,. Tralee, Co. Kerry.

In olden times the Kingdom of Kerry had ten times as many goats as all the other counties of Ireland rolled into one, for the people believed, and who is to say they were wrong, that children reared on goat’s milk grew up into handsome women and fine strapping men the height of a goalpost. The mountains around Kilorglin were favourite feeding grounds for the goats as some special herb that grew therer was greatly to their liking, for it put extra silk in their coats and added another inch to their horns.

Most of the Killorglin goats, and Killorglin as well, were owned by a rich man called Jenkin Conway, whose ancestors came over with the Elizabethans and he was no great prayer in any Irishman’s beads. Conway’s chief herdsman was Crohan O’Sullivan, and every year when the goats were kidding Crohan sent his son, Danny into the mountains to guard the young goats from the eagles. In those days eagles were as plentiful in Killarney as the picture-postcards are today, and they thought nothing of flying across the few miles to kill a kid for their supper.

Danny had a little cabin on the mountains to give him shelter from the elements, but as he was only fifteen years old he found the life very lonely with no one to talk to up among the roacks and the heather, and he began to imagine all varieties of strange wonders happening around him. Every three or four days when his father came to visit him Danny had a new story for his entertainment.

“Dada, I saw a serpent early this morning crossing the bog below and diving into the Laune. Forty foot long he was if he was an inch, and a mane of foxy hair like a horse growing down his neck”

“That’s the last time you’ll see him alive, son,” the father said. “I’ll put some salt over his tail on my way home and he’ll keep us chewing for a month of Sundays.”

“Dada, I saw a leprachaun yesterday evening, sitting on the rock to the west beyond. Mending old shoes he was and singing away as happy as a wranboy.”

“Ah, you’re no good, Daneen, that you didn’t catch hiom by the back of the neck. That smart little fellow has a pot of gold fat enough to keep us all in clover while grass grows and water flows. You’ll never get on in this world, son, if you don’t listen to your elders, for ’tis they have the thumb of knowledge to their hand like Finn MacCool himself.”

“Dada, what wonder do you think I saw the other day? An eagle the size of a cock of hay flew over from the Church of the Sloo Trees and made for the young kids but I beat him off with my stick. And didn’t he whistle with bad temper and grab a rock between his claws and fly high into the clouds and drop it down upon my head, only I wasn’t there to meet it when it landed.”

“Ah, that must bethe feathered gentleman I saw last Saturday, lad. He swooped down on a three-masted ship in Dingle Bay and flew with it as far as the Skelligs Rocks beyond. You were a lucky garsoon he didn’t grab your-self and land you on the back of the Old Man in the moon above.”

That night after his father had gone home, Danny looked out the door of his little cabin and saw the red eye of a fire winking at him from the blackness at the foot of the mountain. He stole quietly down to it carrying two sticks for protection; an oak cudgel in case of human enemies and a hazel stick to deal with them if they were malignant fairies. When he came near he could hear voices speaking English, and the jingle of horse-harness. He crept closer until he was almost near enough to put a finger on tho two men who were talking at the edge of the camp .

“By this time tomorrow we should be on our way to my Lord Cromwell with the head of Jenkin Conway in a leather satchel,” one of the men said.

“Aye we’ll strike into the town at dawn when their sleep will be heaviest. We must take them by surprise for they outnumber us vastly,” the second man declared.

Danny listened a while longer and then stole quietly away. When he thought himself safe from the strangers, he ran as fast as the wind into Killorglin and rapped at his father’s door. Crohan O’Sullivan opened it and shook his head when he saw Danny on the doorstep.
“What wonder is it this time, garsoon? A big ship with a mast of gold and silver sails floating among the clouds of the sky, maybe?” v

“English horses and soldiers at the foot of the mountain, Dada, and they’re going to attack the town at dawn and kill everyone!”

The father laughed and patted Danny on the head. “‘Tisn’t that easy to kill the Killorglin people, son,” he said. “How many soldiers did you see now?” “Around sixty, Dada. They landed in Valentia Island the other day, and they have a boy with a drum, and a man with a brass bugle, and guns and all. And one of the officers said he’d be cutting the head off Jenkin Conway and making a present of it in a leather satchel to his Lord Cromwell.’·

“Faith, this Cromwell mustn’t be too easy to satisfy whoever he is,” Crohan ‘Sullivan asid, “Well, ‘ll tell you what I’ll do so Danny. I have some birdlime in the room beyond that I made yesterday from holly-bark to catch linnets and goldfinches, and I’ll smear it along the road and trap the Sassenachs instead. Off with you now up the muontain for there’s bound to be an eagle or two foraging for food in the morning, and that’s not too far way from this minute.”

Young Danny sighed in sorrow when he saw that his father did n’t believe a tittle of what he said.

“But ’tis the white and shining truth I’m telling you, Dada,” he cried. “Come on up to the mountain and see for yourself.”

“Foot I’ll not plant on the mountain until the say after tomorrow, and if there’s any young goats whipped away by the eagles ’tis your head will be cut from your shoulders and not Jenkin Conway’s. Be off now with you or Ill take an ash plant to put a bit of life in your two legs!” Crohan O’Sullivan warned him.

When Danny reached his cabin on the mountain he gave a low whistle and the Puck goat who was king of the muontain came trotting across to him. Danny caught the Puck by the horns and, followed by all the goats of the mountain, marched towards the camp of the sleeping Crom-wellians. When he came close to it he gave a shout to frighten the deadf, hit the Puck on the rump, and in a minute the regiment of goats were galloping through the camp, filling fhe night with their weird cries, and trampling the soldiers asleep on the grass. The bugler thought the camp was being attacked and blew the alarm, the drummer-boy rattled his kettledrum, and the soldiers exploded their guns. Not since the days of the fighting Fianna was there so much noise and hullabaloo on the mountain, and Kill-orglin was saved, for the Cromwellians, knowing that they could not make a surprise attack any longer, rode back to their ship in the morning.

When the big August fair came around that year the Killorglin citizens remembered the debt they owed to the goats and they made the Puck King of the Fair, and gave a purse of gold to Danny. And a Puck goat has been King every year since, and he’ll be King every year from this on while there’s an O’Sullivan in Killorglin and a goat in the Kingdom of Kerry.