History of Matchmaking in Lisdoonvarna
Matchmaking is one of Ireland’s oldest traditions and, for the last couple of hundred years, a good deal of it has taken place in Lisdoonvarna during September and early October.
Matchmaking began in Lisdoonvarna when the visiting gentry who were here to take the waters, wanted their accompanying children to be matched to their fellow “upper classes”. Traditionally they came in September after the harvest was gathered for a holiday…but the more serious business of arranging suitable marriages for their sons and daughters was high on the agenda. The potential match was done by the parents placing them together at social gatherings, sporting events and musical evenings. If the match was pleasing to all parties, their courtship was encouraged to blossom.
Matchmakers used their experience to put suitable couples together for an agreed fee….
The name Lisdoonvarna comes from ‘Lios Duin Bhearna’, which means the lios or enclosure of the fort in the gap.
The town developed into a tourist centre as early as the middle of the 18th-century when a top Limerick surgeon discovered the beneficial effects of its mineral waters. People travelled from near and far to bathe in, and drink, the mineral waters.
Rich in iron, sulphur and magnesium, the waters gave relief from the symptoms of certain diseases including rheumatism and glandular fever. The Spa Hotel was the centre around which the village developed.
The opening of the West Clare Railway contributed towards that development, although the nearest railway station was seven miles away at Ennistymon. This station opened in l887 and from that time onwards, until the advent of the motorcar, tourists travelled from the train in pony
By the 1920s, matchmaking was still in vogue and people continued to come and “take the waters”, including many of Ireland’s clergy. It was around this time that one of Lisdoonvarna’s most famous sayings was coined, describing the town as a place “where parish priests pretend to be sober and bank clerks pretend to be drunk” .
Today, the only true Matchmaker left is Willie Daly, who runs a pub in Ennistymon. and also has a riding school.
Willie thinks he was born on 1 April 1943, though he can’t be sure because the priest who recorded the date was ‘very fond of the drink’. He has lived in Ballingaddy all of his life, and still lives next door to the 300-year-old cottage where he was born. During the festivities you’ll find him, and his precious notebook of love-seeking profiles, in his ‘office’ (aka the snug of The Matchmaker bar). Queuing behind his table is a line of hopeful singles, all ages and nationalities, crossing their fingers and entrusting the man in charge to find them a mate.
Willie Daly took over the matchmaking business from his father back in the 1960’s, when the job involved encouraging notoriously shy farmers to pluck up the courage needed to meet one of the ladies from his famous book. The farmers who often lived and worked on very remote farms had poor social skills, especially when it came to meeting the ladies.
While the festival has moved into the 21st century, offering the Matchmaking website and speed dating, Willie still believes in the old fashioned method of round the table talks with couples and getting the passion flowing by getting them dancing together.