County Clare is preparing for the tide of dancing and romancing that rushes in with the upcoming Matchmaking Festival
Picture, for a moment, an Irish farmer in September, carefully reviewing his To Do list and scratching off his tasks:
1. Gather harvest
2. Shoe horses
His eyes fall to the final line:
3. Find wife
He stands in front of the mirror, straightens the collar on his fresh shirt and drags a comb through his hair. Then off he shuffles with a hopeful whistle out the door and down to the local pub in Lisdoonvarna. A crowd of other farmers are already lining the bar, eyeing up the coy, giggling groups of lassies in the corner, with their hair in curls and their dancing shoes on.
You see, this is not just any village local in Ireland. This is Lisdoonvarna in County Clare, and for one month a year, this is THE centre of the matchmaking universe! And this wonderfully cosy scene has been played out each and every September for more years than anyone can actually remember (it’s thought to be between 100 and 200 years old).
This fantastically unique festival has now evolved into the world’s largest singles event: every September the Lisdoonvarna Matchmaking Festival draws 20,000 love-seeking pilgrims to its crowded bars and taverns. That’s pretty impressive when you consider this humble village in the midst of the breathtaking Burren is usually home to just 800.
A programme of set dancing, racing and live music sets the scene for some hormone and Guinness-fuelled revelry. This feast of winks, flirts and all-out craic revolves around eagle-eyed cupid Willie Daly; festival organiser, horse trader and third generation matchmaker.
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. You may even find the fourth generation of this matchmaking dynasty, Willie’s daughter, Claire, also in attendance, ready to fix you up and get you chatted up.
These days the event draws a crowd much more diverse than just farmers, and from far across the globe. Blonde oil baroness Jan Carr got the local media in a small frenzy when she breezed in to snag an Irish lad to share her Texas ranch. In fact, quite a few eager American ladies turn up to get onto Willie’s books each year, with others coming over here from as far away as New Zealand.
People come from all over, but they also come from all ages. As Willie says, there is never an age when it’s too late to be in love.
The Lisdoonvarna Matchmaking Festival takes place from 31 August – 7 October 2012.