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Friday 17 November 2017

'Better than Tinder' - How people, young and old, are finding love in rural Ireland

'Living in Rural Ireland' series: 'It's great to live in the countryside... but there can be a lack of opportunity to meet people'

John Murray and Caitriona Fox-Murray married in Mitchelstown on July 29, 2016
John Murray and Caitriona Fox-Murray married in Mitchelstown on July 29, 2016

Claire Fox

Dating in rural Ireland has long changed since the days of dance halls and courting at crossroad ceilís.

With the demise of the rural pub and out migration from the countryside at an all-time high, the opportunities to meet people are becoming noticeably slimmer.

Here are a few ways people, young and old, are finding love in rural Ireland.

Macra Love

President of rural organisation Macra na Feirme James Healy recently called the organisation "better than Tinder" as a way of finding a future partner in the countryside.

Caitriona Fox-Murray and her husband John Murray could very well be an advertisement for Mr Healy's claim.

The pair met at a Macra event in 2012 and married four years later. They now live on their farm near Carrick-on-Suir, Co Waterford.

"I was a competitor in the Macra/IFA Young Farmer of the Year Competition. John was there supporting his friend Pat O'Neill, who was also in the competition and he also had a Macra National Council Meeting at the Castle that weekend. We got engaged in 2014 and married on 29 July, 2016," Caitríona told Independent.ie.

The couple are still very much involved in their original Macra clubs in Cork and Tipperary and, while the pair are proof that Macra can be a way to meet a potential partner, John believes the organisation is far much more than that.

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"No one is compelled to view it as a form of tinder. It is so much more. It’s great for the mental health of youth today, who are under so many pressures and meeting up with peers is a great way to relieve this stress," said the young dairy and beef farmer.

Caitríona echoed her husband's view: "Several couples have met through Macra but Macra is not only for meeting people.

"It’s also for gaining new friends and for gaining new experiences and lifelong skills for example, public speaking & debating. Macra offers people so much more than Tinder ever could."

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John Murray and Caitriona Fox-Murray married in Mitchelstown on July 29, 2016

Table for Six

In the midlands, Mairead Loughman, from Mullingar, set up Table For Six in May and runs the match-making agency, Matchsticks.ie. Table For Six involves a group of six meeting for dinner and a chat. They may exchange numbers with one another and find a potential partner.

"I'm getting calls from farmers from Westport to the most westerly parts of Galway. A lot of the time women go to find jobs in the cities and towns and men are left behind in the countryside," Mairead said.

"It's really taken off since May and I'll be having a rural Ireland Table For Six on September 9 and there's tickets still available."

Karoline, from North Tipperary, was a participant in the Table for Six dating segment that recently aired on RTE’s Miriam O’ Callaghan Show. She said that she took part in Table For Six as a means of fun but also because she said that "the chances are against you" if want to meet someone in the countryside.

"A lot of people my age have emigrated and the pub culture is different in rural areas. It's great to live in the countryside and invest yourself in country life but there can be a lack of opportunity to meet like-minded people.

"Who knows, the same could be said in the middle of Dublin though as the middle of Caherciveen. It's not always easy to find like-minded people."

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Padraig Carr

Padraig Carr (38) is from a rural area outside Claregalway, Co Galway and is hoping to take part in Table For Six in September. He explained that a lot of his friends have "crossed the barrier" and got married but admits that it's very difficult to find love in rural Ireland, especially if you’re not working with women.

"All you have is the pub and if you're not working with women it's very hard to meet them. For me, pubs are a false environment because they're fuelled by alcohol.

"It doesn't paint a true picture of people and you'd rarely see a woman walk into a pub in the country without a man anyway," said the financial advisor and part-time music teacher.

The Outing

Phillip O' Malley from Sligo moved to Dublin when he was in his early 20s and stayed there until 2009. He was diagnosed with cancer and was forced to return to his native Sligo.

Philip is gay and found returning to rural Ireland a huge culture shock having lived in Dublin for so many years.

"Rural Ireland is very isolating. I live along the Wild Atlantic Way. It's very lonely. I feel isolated and I've friends that I go on pizza nights with and they go on breaks away but I'm the only single one and I don't want to be a gooseberry or a third wheel so I don't go with them," he explained.

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Philip O' Malley

Philip works as a social media co-ordinator and recently qualified with a degree in Accounting, Politics and Law from IT Sligo. He recalled how it was very hard for him to come out in rural Ireland and that people are still afraid to be their true selves there.

"My mother didn't understand my choices. It was really hard. I realised in the mid-nineties when I was ten or 11 that I had a leaning toward my own sex.

"I'm very open and at the end of the day finding someone is what we all strive for.

"People in rural Ireland are still afraid to come out. It's very restricted and they're afraid to test the waters."

Recognising this problem, event director and former Event Chair for Dublin Pride, Eddie McGuiness has set up The Outing festival which occurs on the final weekend of September as part of the Lisdoonvarna Matchmaking festival.

The festival was established five years ago and has seen several successful matches and weddings.

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Festival orgniser Eddie McGuinness, Tv3 presenter Alan Hughes and and Jane Stokes, Fáilte Ireland along with a group of International Journalists hosted by Fáilte Ireland at The Outing Photograph by Eamon Ward

Speaking to Independent.ie, Eddie said the festival is unique as it is the only LGBTQ matchmaking event of its kind in the world.

"Dating in Dublin can be hard and overpowering," Eddie said. 

"We want to take it back to what the country pub was like. We’ve had very successful matches.

"We bring 2,000 LGBT+ people to a village that has a population of only 890 every year."

Lisdoonvarna

Willie Daly has been a matchmaker at the famous Lisdoonvarna for more than fifty years.

He told Independent.ie that he is "always surprised" when he receives calls from young people asking for him to help them find love but recognises that pub and nightclub situations don't suit everyone as a way to meet people.

"I'm surprised that young people in their 20s still use matchmaking services but social situations can be very noisy and loud and you're almost compelled not to be yourself. Alcohol is usually involved. Young people aren't allowed to be themselves and they deserve to be," said the Clare man.

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Matchmaker Willie Daly with his book of contacts at the Matchmaking Festival Lisdoonvarna

Mr Daly added that the drink driving ban has affected his match-making business and that it should be adjusted.

He said: "If you're living in rural Ireland the long winter nights start at quarter to four in the evening. It would be lovely to go to the pub and play cards and have a drink. People are very isolated. The drink driving ban should be adjusted.

"It's regrettable that these decisions are being made by people living in Dublin.

"You need a car to get everywhere in rural Ireland. It can be extremely lonely and it's affected my matchmaking as a man might need a drink before he goes on the date as he would be shy but knows he can't as he could be put off the road."

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