A Match Made in County Clare

Lisdoonvarna, County Clare

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Photo of Lisdoonvarna pub by Fionn Kidney, licensed under Creative Commons

Matchmaker, Matchmaker,
Make me a match,
Find me a find,
Catch me a catch
— Matchmaker, song from Fiddler on the Roof

In the autumn a middle-aged farmer’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love. The harvest is in and he’s facing a cold and lonely winter. But where will he find himself a wife? Perhaps, come September, he can head to the Matchmaking Festival in Lisdoonvarna.

The village of Lisdoonvarna is Ireland’s only active spa town, built around a spring rich in sulphur and iron. Tourists have been “taking the waters” here since the 18th century, but it was the opening of the West Clare Railway in the 19th century that opened the area to mass tourism. Visitors would take the train to Ennistymon and a pony from there to Lisdoonvarna.

All the lonely people,
Where do they all come from?
– All the Lonely People, song by the Beatles

Post-famine Ireland had a high percentage of single people. Mass emigration took potential partners out of the country, and among those who remained, men were concentrated in the countryside and women in the towns. Perhaps also a tendency to shyness and a puritanical attitude to sex put a dampener on courtship. In any case, the Matchmaking Festival was established, and the romance business flourished.

Willie Daly, the fourth generation matchmaker in his family, has been introducing couples to each other for 45 years and is responsible for over 3000 marriages. During the festival, he can be found in the snug of The Matchmaker pub; just follow the long queue of potential mates and put your name into his enormous scrapbook of profiles. Legend says that if a single person holds the 150-year-old book in their two hands, they will find a mate within six months, while a married person doing the same will find their passion rekindled.

Today, Internet sites such as match.com and plentyoffish have become a year-long matchmaking festival. But there is still room for the old-fashioned approach practiced by Willie Daly.

Love is waiting there for everyone, it’s there just waiting to be found. When it is, it’s a lovely feeling.

— Willie Daly, matchmaker

Not all visitors arrive for the purpose of finding a lifelong mate. Music and drinking are also a big part of the festival’s appeal, and many singles and couples arrive in September out of curiosity or in search of “the craic”, turning this tiny village for a short period into a bustling place.

The following month, Lisdoonvarna holds “The Outing”, a matchmaking festival for gay people from Ireland and around the world. The Outing first ran in 2013, but received a boost in 2015 when Ireland became the first country to bring in same-sex marriage by public vote. Rainbow flags will fly, and Willie Daly will be ready to add new names to his big book.

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