Calls to end use of live goat in 'Ireland's oldest festival' made as Puck Fair gets underway

A captured mountain goat is displayed annually at the Puck Fair in Co Kerry.
A captured mountain goat is displayed annually at the Puck Fair in Co Kerry.

AN animal rights group has called for the use of a live goat during the Puck Fair to end as the annual festival got underway in Co Kerry.

Described as 'Ireland's oldest fair', the festival began on Thursday and saw a captured wild goat displayed in a cage atop a stand in the centre of the village of Killorglin.

Thousands of visitors are expected to visit the village to take part in festivities which conclude on Saturday evening.

The centuries-old festival traditionally sees the goat, who is crowned 'King Puck', kept in the cage for the duration of the three-day fair before being removed.

The goat is hoisted onto the stand after being paraded through the village.

However, ahead of this year's festival, organisers revealed the selected goat would only make an appearance in the cage for a short period on Thursday, before returning for another brief stint at the close of the event.

The decision followed criticism from animal rights campaigners and complaints around the 2022 fair when the chosen goat was removed from the cage for the first time in the festival's history as temperatures soared and fears were sparked over the animal's health.

Read more: Organisers of 'Ireland's oldest fair' to cut time wild goat spends in cage over welfare concerns

It later emerged 175 complaints about the goat's treatment were made to the Republic's Department of Agriculture.

As this year's fair got underway, the National Animal Rights Association called for 2023 to be the last time a live goat is displayed in the cage for any length of time.

Speaking on the Newstalk radio station, spokesperson Laura Broxson said she said fair organisers appeared to be "making an attempt to fizzle it out".

"If they can admit that it's wrong to keep a goat up in a cage for three days, then surely they can't think that it's OK to have him around for a couple of hours," she said.

"It's an attempt, but it's not good enough and it needs to be the last time that a goat is used for this fair."

Ms Broxson said organisers should look at "alternative ways to celebrate this tradition".

"If they need to have a symbolic goat figure, they could have competitions in wood-carving, sculpting, they could have an animatronic goat if they want to. They could have a teddy bear goat if they want to," she said.

"Anything else will do. They can be innovative with this, just take live animals out of it."

She added: "If you were to put a cat or a dog up in that environment, I think everyone would be horrified and acknowledge that the animal would be afraid.

"It would be an unfamiliar, unnatural environment and it would have an affect on them."

However, independent Kerry TD Michael Healy-Rae defended the practice, describing the fair as a "safe, happy, family event", and said the event was "like going on their holidays" for the chosen goat.

"These goats are brought down off a mountain and off cliffs, where the tower that they've been put up inside the town is miniscule in height in comparison to where they would have been coming from," he said.

Ahead of this year's festival, Puck Fair committee chair Declan Falvey said the role of the goat had "evolved".

"The goat’s welfare has always been and remains of paramount importance to the committee and all of those that love Puck Fair," he said.