HE IS the last surviving link to a more romantic Ireland that is, if not dead and gone, certainly long on the wane.
But veteran matchmaker Willie Daly is celebrating his most successful year since he first started introducing couples half a century ago.
The third-generation matchmaker and farmer said 237 couples he’s brought together have walked down the aisle in the past 12 months, a record.
Clare-based Willie, 69, once feared demand for his old-fashioned services would vanish, particularly during the Celtic Tiger years and the explosion in internet dating.
But he said the downturn has triggered a surge in love-hungry singletons queuing up for his tried-and-tested prescriptions for romance.
And Willie, who still uses the family’s tatty 100-year-old diary to conjure up love matches, said his reputation has even spread to the Far East, where more frustrated singles have started resorting to his traditional techniques.
“It’s been a very good year, in fact it could have been the busiest and most successful I’ve ever had in terms of marriages. I’ve counted up 237 of them in the past 12 months, with many of those over here, but a good few abroad too.
“There’s even been marriages in places like Singapore and the Philippines, where word has been spreading about my services.
“I put a lot of it down to the recession, because people are more desperate to get married than ever before because of the security it gives them.
“The first thing a lady might have been interested in a few years ago was how the fella looked. But most of them now wouldn’t even mind if hadn’t a full set of teeth or if his hair hadn’t seen a wash or a brush for a while, so long as he had a bit of money.
“The first question they want to know now when they ask me to find them someone is if he’s working or unemployed.”
Willie reckons that women’s decreasing pickiness is great news for lonely bachelor farmers who, he says, have their best chance in decades of bagging a bride at next month’s matchmaking festival in Lisdoonvarna, a 200-year-old event which has become Europe’s largest singles party.
He said the stability and lifestyle farmers present to the opposite sex means they are more in vogue than ever before.
“A few years ago the bankers, architects and engineers were top of the list. Now, for the first time in a long, long time, it’s the farmers. And that’s the way it should be, because the festival was first started by the farmers arriving in town to look for love.”
Although Willie — who insists on being present to introduce couples on their first dates — has handed over most of the running of the festival to his daughter, Claire, he said he will attend the month-long festival, to weave his magic once more.
“It looks like it’s going to be very busy. We’re benefiting from people taking staycations, as bookings are a good bit up on last year. And I’m looking forward to it.
“There’s nowhere else in the world like Lisdoonvarna in September. You’ll see dancing all day and fellas proposing four or five times by the time the day’s finished.”
One high-profile celebrity who could be fighting off the farmers is singer Sinead O’Connor, who said she is planning a trip to the festival.
The festival will run from September 2 to October 3.
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