3,000 marriages on and the man is still smiling - Go figure!
Published 03/09/2016 | 02:30
'Would you like to be buried with my people?' As chat-up lines go, it's probably not the kind of husky invite you're likely to overhear in Coppers or Lillie's.
But for the 40,000 people who'll crowd the tea dances and ceilidhe in Lisdoonvarna over the next few weeks, it's a come-on that works wonders when accompanied with a grin and a wink.
September is upon us, with long winter evenings just around the corner, so where's a middle-aged farmer possessed of fully working body parts to find a comely maiden for cosy canoodling around his lonely hearth? Not on the internet or at a speed-dating gig, that's for sure.
Even in the brave new world of Tinder, bachelor farmers from 30 to God knows what will still tractor up to the same locale where their fathers courted - the County Clare marketplace where love came packaged with the bishop's approval.
At the morning tea dances in the Hydro, romance could be just a jig away for those with an eye to the main chance. When Brendan Shine observed: "I'm awful shifty for a man of 50", he said a mouthful.
As a place where jiggy Celtic Tigers still purr lustily at 65, Lisdoon is a name guaranteed to prompt sad smiles and sniggers from city folk who know no better. In rural heartlands from Athlone to Alabama, however, it's a trusted brand that has been nurtured and moulded over 150 years - a place where LoL stands for 'lots of land'.
Any festival that brings people together is positive, regardless of whether it is promoted as a match-making one, explains Willie Daly (pictured), local high priest of love, who only lately swapped his battered black book for computer storage.
"Deep down, every single is hoping to find a partner who will enrich their life. And those who think coming to Lisdoonvarna demeans the idea of finding that partner are people who don't recognise opportunity."
Having started at the matchmaking game just under 50 years ago, and following in his father's and grandfather's footsteps, Willie claims to have engineered 3,000 marriages.
The battered book he still carries illustrates the changing romantic tastes chronicled over half a century.
In the 'personal preferences' section, the 2016 applicants list music, walking and travel, while a standout from 1965 reads simply: "12 cows". Whatever floats your muck spreader, I guess.
In a world of body-shaming and bulimia stalking youth, there's a lot to be said for the simplicity and good humour of a town where that famous dictum of Mae West seems to hold true: "It's not the men in my life that count, it's the life in my men."
And when one of Ireland's biggest hearthrobs, country music singer Nathan Carter, puts his faith in the place, you know it's serious.
"I don't get too many days off, only four in total for August," he said. "Whether there's a lady out there who'll put up with that, I don't know, but maybe Willie is the right man to find the right lady for me."
The county council is already erecting crash barriers to contain the inevitable stampede of high-stepping females ready to answer that yearning.
At midnight in the Hydro Hotel, an air of expectancy crackles in the air as the band sweeps into another rousing set of reels.
"My friends laughed when I told them I was coming to Lisdoonvarna," admitted Sheila, a redhead from Cork. "But I'm 41, separated, and what do you do - go to discos with teenagers or a bar on my own? No, thanks."
In a roomful of strangers, a friendly word can change everything.
"If I tell Willie there's a man I'd like to speak to, he'll introduce us in a civilised way. If it works out, great - if not, he'll try again later.
"Out there on the dance floor of dreams, where the difference between 20 and 40 is gauged by little more than the depth of desperation and mascara, no amount of social media will hold your hand like that genial father figure with the shock of white hair.
"We're all trying to look so cool and composed, but the plain fact is that most people, no matter what their age, are scared to death to walk right up to a stranger and say hello. Willie makes us all laugh a little and not take ourselves so seriously."
And if she was lucky enough to meet a stranger who ticked all her boxes, it's a safe bet he'll not be the kind who posts sneaky selfies to pals in the afterglow.