Every year a goat-catcher goes up into the mountains to catch a wild goat. The goat is brought back to the town and the Queen of Puck, traditionally a young schoolgirl from one of the local primary schools crowns him King Puck.
The fair itself is purported to be ancient but can only officially be traced back as far as 1613 when King James I issued a charter granting legal status to the existing fair in Killorglin. Despite this fact, its roots are still unknown, although there are several legends of its origins.
One of the legends of the fair is that the event pays tribute to a goat that broke away from its herd, while the rest of the herd headed towards the mountains, and warned the town’s inhabitants while the “Roundheads” were pillaging the countryside around Shanara and Kilgobnet at the foot of the McGillycuddy Reeks. The advancing army of Oliver Cromwell during his conquest of Ireland in the 17th century triggered the pillages around the countryside. The goat’s arrival alerted the inhabitants of danger, and they immediately set out to protect the town and their herds. This is explained in the traditional Irish ballad, An Poc ar Buile (the Mad Puck Goat).
Scholars speculate that the fair’s origins stem from Pre-Christian Ireland, from the Celtic festival of Lughnasa which symbolised the beginning of the harvest season, and that the goat is a pagan fertility symbol.
In 1931, Margaret Murray tied the Puck Fair into her version of the witch-cult hypothesis, asserting that it was a pre-Christian festival in honour of the Horned God. However, historians Jeffrey B. Russell and Brooks Alexander have asserted that “Today, scholars are agreed that Murray was more than just wrong – she was completely and embarrassingly wrong on nearly all of her basic premises.”