Lisdoonvarna: ‘Hopefully they’ll get a little wife to help out’

Matchmaking festival brings some for love and others for a second chance

It is late September at the fag end of the tourism season. Most of the tourists have gone home. Yet in Lisdoonvarna there is not a hotel room to be had, nor a car parking space in the whole of the narrow streets. The rain is sheeting down. There is so much music coming from every doorway that it seems to create a solid wall of noise, country and Irish noise mostly.

This is the third and busiest weekend of the Lisdoonvarna Matchmaking Festival. The international curiosity towards this idiosyncratic and very Irish festival grows with every passing year. TLC are making a documentary, Channel 4's Pixie McKenna from Embarrassing Bodies was there on Saturday. There is a French film crew staying the weekend.

Presiding over it all is the bearded sage of matchmakers Willie Daly. He holds court in the snug of the Matchmaker pub in Lisdoonvarna. People come to shake his hand, get their picture taken and touch the dog-eared matchmaking book, with pens prodding out of the pages, which has been in his family for more than 100 years. The story goes that if you are single and put your two hands on the book, you will be married in six months. It is much in demand.

Those looking for love fill out an application form. Willie scribbles notes on them in red. One encircled reads “lovely girl”.


The odds are in her favour. The ratio of men to women is about two to one. They trust in Willie. “Hopefully, at the end of the day they’ll get a little wife to help out around the house,” he says.

The British are all about “dancing not romancing”, he believes, the Americans are all about “romancing” and the Irish visitors come for “dancing, romancing and drinking”. There is plenty of drinking. Every pub is full.

Florrie O’Sullivan from Castletownbere, Co Cork, has been coming to the festival since 1974. The 41 years in between has not dimmed his quest for love. “I’ve met a lot of women here in my time. I met one last year but we were too far apart. She lived in Roscommon and I’m in Cork. That’s just the way it goes.”

Janet McAtee from Kansas City is on a family vacation with her sister, brother and father. "I heard about Willie. I'm looking for love," she said.

She has two grown up daughters and four grandchildren. She wants a man who “loves family, with a good heart who is honest and loyal.”

Some are looking for first love, others for a second chance. A lot are just curious. Juliana Weiss (21) from New York came down from NUI Galway, where she is studying, to see what all the fuss is about. "There's absolutely nothing like this in the United States. Of course I had to come." She's not looking to settle down just yet. She laughs: "My grandparents would be thrilled, but no."

The conviviality and atmosphere of it all is an old-fashioned comfort in comparison with online dating. “The internet has ruined dating,” said one woman who didn’t want to give her name, “it’s all about sex”.

The next weekend will be the last for straight people. The first weekend of October will be the annual “Outing” festival for gay people which will have a particular significance given the passage of the marriage equality referendum earlier this year.

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy is a news reporter with The Irish Times