Friday 23 March 2018

'I'd a match when he said: will you eat the pig with me?'

Matchmaker Willie Daly with Siobhan O’Brien, Co Clare, and Deborah Hopkins, Germany
Matchmaker Willie Daly with Siobhan O’Brien, Co Clare, and Deborah Hopkins, Germany

Brian McDonald

Nobody keeps a record, but thousands of Irish couples surely owe their relationship to a few days spent at Europe's biggest singles party, AKA the Lisdoonvara Matchmaking Festival.

For the past 159 years, they're been flocking to the west Clare town - some allegedly to take the water, but almost all in the hope of finding love, companionship and maybe more.

It all came to an end for 2015 last night, when the current instalment wrapped up, and an estimated 60,000 will have visited Lisdoonvarna for everything that Christy Moore promised in his crafty homage to the place.

The organisers urge those considering a trip to 'Lisdoon' to abandon dating apps and try their hand at the real thing instead.

"Computers are computers, but there's nobody can do what happens in Lisdoonvarna," says matchmaker Willie Daly quietly.


For 50 years, the country's most renowned matchmaker has been fixing them up.

"I've no doubt that the old way of matchmaking is the best way - and no, I don't know how many I've put together, but I suppose it must be more than 3,000 couples by now," he says.

Armed with his disintegrating file of current applications, all held together with string, he regales applicants with tales of love sought, found, lost and put back together again.

"My very first match was two young people who separately wanted to buy a pig from a farmer.

"But I got them both to put their hand on the pig to see how fat he was.

"I knew it was done when he said to the young girl: 'Will you eat him with me?'."

Nowadays, those heading West are as much interested in the music and dancing as they are in spotting a vision across a crowded room.

Three Co Galway girls, Genevieve Callanan, Detta Mannion and Josephine Toher, headed off together to Lisdoon' for "the dancing and the craic". Care worker Genevieve has a man anyway - and "one man is enough for any woman".


Detta likewise has a husband at home and couldn't get enough of the dancing at the Spa Wells at the bottom of the town.

For John Houlihan from Bruff, Co Limerick, it was a case of making up for lost time. A dedicated race cyclist during his younger years - he rode the Rás Tailteann six times - he was now discovering a new way of staying fit and healthy.

"I missed out on the dancing when I was doing all the cycling and I'm making up for it now," he said.

Since the 18th century, they've been coming to Lisdoonvarna to "take the water". There was nobody in west Clare town who doesn't swear by the extraordinary properties of the stuff.

However, Eileen Loftus from Patrickswell admits she dragged husband John along to the festival.

"We're 45 years married and I love dancing," she said.

"I bring John along because he does the paying," she added.

The price of true love.

Irish Independent

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