Aug 11, 2019
Greetings from onboard a shuttle bus taking me back to Killarney from Killorglan. No those aren’t Klingon swear words, but ancient towns in Western Ireland. I’ve just spent the day experiencing the 400 year old “Puck Fair”, which is a quaint rural tradition wherein a male mountain goat is abducted from his perch and crowned King Puck for the 3-day duration of the fair.
It sounds cruel, but it isn’t really. The goat is well cared for by a team of veterinarians, and is returned to his home when the fair is over. I don’t think it’s particularly fun for the goat, though, which is why I didn’t pay 10 euros to have my photo taken with him, despite the social media gold that such an image represents.
The town’s streets are filled with distraught-looking wee children (pickney in the parlance of my people) performing elementary-school music on their various instruments, from accordions to ukuleles to, as in the case of this little one, recorders:
The fair itself is hilarious. It’s a cross between English outdoor “panto” productions and rural Canadian flea markets. Here are a few moments of the street:
And here’s a circus performer:
The first night features the crowning of King Puck, the second (today) features the lowering of His Goatly Majesty from his tower perch to the ground for 30 minutes so that greasy tourist children can be photographed with him. Here he is being let down (as were we all):
The third night is for the hard core party fiends, I assume.
A couple of my favourite sights were, first, of this potato truck, which was near a kiosk selling discounted potato peelers. Because who isn’t thrilled with a cultural stereotype?
And second of the parade of caravans filled with fortune telling gypsies:
There’s even a Queen of the Goat-Puckery:
Throughout the fair, various kiosks sell an assortment of low quality crap: discount shoes, power tools, bootleg DVDs, imitation haute couture handbags and perfume, and cheap T-shirts. It felt like an Asian night bazaar, but manned entirely by working class Irishmen.
Here’s a taste of their odd salesmanship. One kiosk proprietor suddenly announced, rather angrily, “Twenty percent sale starts NOW! Come on! Let’s do this!” The look of intensity on his face revealed to me that he learned his sales technique from watching football coaching on TV.
In fact, right now I’m sitting in an empty bus right behind the driver, who is blasting the vehicle with the local radio broadcast. It began with a long list of locals who had died recently (reminding me of how radio is used to that purpose in remote Guyana) and is now concerned solely with a sports play-by-play in that adorable Irish lilt. For the life of me, I can’t tell what sport they are describing. (Editor’s note: it was Gaelic football. Whatever that is.)
On the outbound journey to Killorglin, I sat next to an older gentleman who –how shall I put this– clearly prefers the intimate company of other men. He had the sweetest old Hobbit accent and told me, “Back in the days, things were much wilder than they are now.”
“Is it because the tourists have changed it?” I asked.
“Oh no,” he intoned. “Just the changing times, don’t you know.”
I can’t help but wonder what he meant by “much wilder.”
On the same bus, an American woman reading the newspaper suddenly said to her husband, “Look! It says Jeffrey Epstein committed suicide!”
I turned to them and offered, “Or *did* he?” Then I turned away, happy with myself.
They looked confused.
The lowering of the goat was, in a word, hilarious. One Australian traveler (whose 60th birthday it was) told me she was convinced that the entire town was in on the joke. I don’t know. They seemed to take it all quite seriously. Well, maybe. The soundtrack to the lowering of the goat was… Baby Shark.
Here’s my first glimpse of the majestic one (Youtube might remove the glorious soundtrack):
The entire ordeal was a large working class rural fair, with locals selling power tools and other manly items on blankets lain out on the ground. There were several caravans on the edge of town, advertising gypsy-themed fortune telling services. Adjacent to them were the requisite shaky carnival rides, reminiscent of back before the Canadian National Exhibition had safety regulations.
Here is some more Puck Fair reading material:
Aug 12, 2019
Hey it’s my birthday! And I’m spending most of it on a train to Galway. My first thoughts today were of the Apollo astronauts. Specifically, I tweeted this:
Apollo astronauts had to shit into clear plastic bags adhesively (is that a word?) sealed to their buttholes, then massage their own feces to mix it with a germicide (to prevent gaseous expansion), all while orbiting the Moon. Now that’s a new definition of “bad ass”.
Yes, I’m quite proud of that.
The only truly noticeably bodily change that being 52 has wrought is that I now have a single grey eyebrow hair, jutting perpendicularly out from my head. It seems I am slowly transforming into a unicorn.
Some more thoughts about my time in Ireland. I’m really quite pleased and surprised by how much I’m enjoying my time here. The travel is almost effortless, given the efficiency of the transportation infrastructure and the fact that this is ostensibly an English-speaking nation. Mind you, last night I turned on the TV and caught a local news cast in Irish Gaelic. For a second I thought I was either having an LSD flashback (due to my minimally misspent youth) or had slipped into a parallel universe where the language of record is gibberish verging on Klingonese. This may sound like hyperbole to you, but given my adherence to the many words interpretation of quantum mechanics, I fully expect this to happen to me one day.
Unsurprisingly, it’s the American tourists who are the only deleterious aspect of this trip. Right now, a gaggle of them are arguing loudly at the other end of the train compartment… about which one of them ate the last Lara bar. Sigh. On my outward train ride to Killarney, a drunken young lad from Cork was desperately trying to start a conversation an American couple who looked traumatized by his friendliness. I overheard much of his delivery, and the fellow was fascinating. A ten minute chat would him would likely have been a highlight of their trip, if I may be so bold.
The random friendliness of people here continues to surprise me. When I visited Marsh’s library to see the Bram Stoker exhibit, as soon as I walked in the door, a guide gave me an eloquent 10 minute spiel about the place. I interrupted her to ask how many times per hour she had to say the same thing. She was taken aback. “Oh I’d never thought about it. I guess it’s different every time.” And then she turned around and repeated the same speech to the next tourist right behind me.
The young man at the reception desk of the UNI NEST student residence in Dublin where I was staying was reading “Freakonomics“, so I asked him some questions about his perceptions of the book. He was so excited to talk about it, especially to a professor, that he insisted on standing up to shake my hand to thank me for my attentions. Quite a gentlemanly act for such a young man.
Just now, on the train leg from Mallow to Limerick, I met a retired school teacher from Cork who put her novel aside to engage in a pleasant conversation with me, all about family, history, travel, alcohol, accents, and pretty much everything else under the sun. This is an old fashioned way of living that I remember from my youth, when taking the bus, train or plane was an opportunity to chat with a stranger. Our world of mobile data devices and individual entertainment units embedded into the backs of airplane seats has robbed us of his simple human connection.
Back in Dublin station, I wolfed down a local scone. (Aside: scones here exist for one reason and one reason only, to serve as a butter delivery vehicle. And the yellow, creamy Irish butter is a wonder. I believe it has to do with the grass fed to the milch cows. The vitamin K2 content must be high indeed. And I’m all about vitamin K2.) So, as I was consuming my scone with extra non-vegan butter (I’m lifting my vegan rules ever so slightly), an old gentleman sat down next to be.
He had a South African accent but claimed to be an Irish citizen. His last name was Strauss, and he spoke fluent German, apparently having grown up somewhat in Vienna. He had many tales to tell, including having met Vladimir Putin (who, he said, has a special dislike for Angela Merkel because she had openly disliked Putin’s dog), and having imported Cuban lobsters to America, selling them as Maine lobsters to sidestep the US-Cuba embargo. Much like almost every educated person I’ve met in Ireland, he also had a particular fascination for the plight of the indigenous peoples of North America. The Irish seem to have a better education of Canada’s Native issues than Canadians do.
We’ll get back to that fascination in a moment. But before we do, I wish to recount Mr Strauss’s tale of his Irish citizenship. It seems his maternal grandfather was a general in the Boer War. Prior to the outbreak of the war, this general had arranged for a big dance to be hosted by Afrikaaners for the local English constabulary. Once it began, the English were compelled to reliqnuish their weapons at the entrance to the dance hall. The General (whose name I think he said was Visser), rode his horse onto the dancefloor, fired two shots into the air, and announced that all the disarmed English soldiers were now his prisoners.
Mr Strauss insists that no one was harmed, but that this was the pretext for the English “invasion” of South Africa, kicking off the (second, I presume) Boer War. He further claims that the English response was brutal, including the creation of the first concenration camps for Afrikaaners. “Hitler learned it from the British!” he said.
Anyway, years later he would emigrate to England and found himself applying for British citizenship. “I see your mother’s maiden name was Visser,” he says the immigration officer asked him.
“Yes,” he claims to have replied.
“Are you any relation to General Visser who fought in the Boer War?”
“Yes. That man was my grandfather.” At that point, the bureaucrat shut his book and told Strauss to leave.
Some years later, Strauss would emigrate to Ireland and would also apply for citizenship (t)here. “I see what your mother’s maiden name was Visser,” the Irish immigration official asked him.
“Yes,” Strauss replied.
“Are you any relation to General Visser who fought in the Boer War?”
“Yes. That man was my grandfather.”
At that point, the Irish bureaucrat shut his book, beamed at Strauss and said, “Welcome to Ireland. Can I buy you a drink?” And that’s when Strauss knew he had found a home.
Now, the quality of a fine conversationalist and storyteller is knowing how to finish. He continued his story, transitioning to a visit by the Irish Prime Minister to America to visit Chief Sitting Bull (remember his fascination with Native North Americans). He wove a detailed narrative that colourful in all its vicissitudes. I am not capable of recapitulating that full issue here. But I will offer what I remember.
The Irish PM was a woman whose first name was Mary. Sitting Bull asked her, “So you’re the Prime Minister. What’s your name?”
“Mary,” she said.
“What’s your husband’s name?”
“Martin,” she said.
“If you’re the Prime Minister, what does Martin do?”
Mary was somewhat taken aback and the possible sexism, but answered, “He makes my breakfast.”
“Ah,” Sitting Bull said. “The man who makes my breakfast is also named Martin. We have much in common!”
“Do we?” Mary asked. “In Ireland we have democracy. Do you have democracy?”
“What is democracy?” Sitting Bull asked.
“We have elections. Do you have elections?”
“Indeed!” Sitting Bull said. “Every morning I have a great big election!”
At that point Mr Strauss stood up and left. No rimshot needed.