Romantic Ireland will never be dead and gone, not while Willie Daly, Ireland’s most famous matchmaker, has a hand to play in the age old art of “courting”.
For the past century and a half, County Clare man Willie and his forefathers have been responsible for the beating in unison of thousands of love-pierced hearts, and the man with an astute eye for pairing perfect partners is confident that the successful traditional trend won’t be bucked anytime soon.
“My grandfather, who was also Willie, did a good bit of matchmaking,” says Willie. “Though what he did was on a different scale to what happens today. This was the nineteenth century, and houses had no electricity or running water. There were no motor cars and the matchmaking was conducted at horse fairs or cattle fairs or at weddings, and even funerals. News about the matchmaker spread through word of mouth and people thought nothing of walking a good distance, be it miles from Ennistymon, or even from further outside the county, if it meant a chance of finding romance.”
WILL YOU MARRY me?” is the first question many men ask women they fancy at the annual Lisdoonvarna Festival in Co Clare. “And they mean it too,” says Willie Daly, one of Ireland’s last traditional matchmakers.
He said that “they weren’t mad”, it’s just men and women become much more open about their feelings at the festival. “If you like someone, you should just let them know.”
Since he started out as a matchmaker 45 years ago following in his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps, the third generation matchmaker has set up around 3,000 marriages. Willie has also passed his skills onto his daughters Claire, Gráinne and Marie.
Willie carries around what he calls his “lucky book”, which is about 150-years-old. He explains, “If you touch the book you’ll be married and in love inside of six months. If you are already married, you will recreate the honeymoon period you first had”.
To become a matchmaker, there needs to be a “longing to do it and you need to have the gift. There’s also knack of knowing what people would suit each other.”
Willie is in high-demand over the month of September at the infamous Lisdoonvarna Matchmaking Festival, which takes place every year. Music and dance can start as early as 11.30am everyday and go on until all hours.
“It’s very social,” says Willie. “In the beginning it starts fairly slowly then it heightens up in the night. It’s a great opportunity for people to meet others.”
More men than women attend the festival. “Rural Ireland can be a lonely place. There’s a lot of lonely men, farmers left behind, while a lot women are based in the cities, so the festival is a great place for them to meet up”.
From Monday to Thursday the crowd is older and are aged between 40 right up to people in their 80s but from Friday to Sunday there’s a younger crowd of between 19 to 38.
Up to 40,000 people from around the world are set to descend on the small town in the west of Ireland to find love over the six weekends.
“English men love Irish women. It’s because they are natural, voluptuous, are very good looking, have lovely eyes and are great fun,” he said.
Willie doesn’t mind that he’ll be busy for the festival. “People come up to me on the street and ask me to introduce them to this one and that one… I don’t mind though”.
“Love is waiting there for everyone, it’s there just waiting to be found,” he said. “When it is, it’s a lovely feeling.”