Cormac MacConnell: Romance still blooms in love capital of west

Peter Curtin, proprietor of The Roadside Tavern in Lisdoonvarna, Co Clare

Peter Curtin, proprietor of The Roadside Tavern in Lisdoonvarna, Co Clare, whose mother still recalls farming couples coming into the bar to discuss details of the farming matches being made.

I have such good news today for the 337 of you out there who are stone mad to change your bachelor status as quickly as possible and the 229 amongst you who are wishful spinsters equally but quietfully anxious to ally yourselves to decent countrymen who are likely to convert ye into wives and even mothers as soon as is decently possible.

The good news today is that the ancient matchmaking season has opened already in the mythical Clare spa town of Lisdoonvarna for the 159th year and the craic is mighty, your romantic chances very high indeed, and all of you should get there as soon as possible.

Do I ever retail anything in this space but the pure truth? It is not even the traditional matchmaking month of September yet in the north Clare town on the edge of the magical stonelands of the Burren but take it from me that they have started the matchmaking season already, even before August has departed into history, and already ,to my certain knowledge, romances have blossomed in the old town and there will be wedding bells ringing before the Spring. 

It has always happened that way over nearly two centuries now and, despite all the social changes of modernity, it is happening again this year. I do not lie.

I never do here.

It is a long time ago now since I first wrote about the matchmaking season each September in what the locals call The Spa but I clearly remember interviewing the gracious mother of Peter Curtin, current proprietor of The Roadside Tavern in the town centre and the yarns she told me of the farming couples of the last century coming into the bar to deal with the essential details of the farming matches being made.

Most of the couples involved back then, being from the immediate region, would have known each other in advance, but there were rituals to be dealt with, such as the dowry which the intended bride would bring along with her to her new home and family and the traditional Walking of The Land by her family representative to ensure that she was moving on to a farm likely to provide a sound future for both herself and likely children of the proposed union.

Mrs Curtin told me in chapter and verse back then how those matches worked out very well for all of those involved way back then. All parties had been drawn from the same genetic pool. Expectations were solid and reasonable on both sides. The matches worked well.

We live in a different world but the incredible matchmaking season in The Spa has not just survived but thrived.

The modern mutated situation is one in which both the bachelor and the spinster from anywhere is guaranteed to enjoy a mighty week of entertainment and craic even if they are still single when October arrives.

But, for a great number, and I have ample proof for the assertion, the September season is a rich one which creates many lasting relationships for men and women largely from rural Ireland, no longer in their teens or twenties, for whom the modern social scene offers increasingly limited arenas for meeting and greeting. Be you male or female a trip to the Spa in September is well worth your while and could change your life.

In synopsis the town hardly sleeps in September. There is dancing and music everywhere, from the ancient Spa site on the edge of the town to the throbbing Hydro Hotel near the centre and popular venues like The Kincora and the other hotels and bars.

The legendary matchmaker Willie Daly, who claims to have created hundreds of marriages, and who is a great character is always to be found most afternoons in The Matchmaker Bar or nearby, and The Roadside Tavern I mentioned earlier is still amongst the liveliest venues for the month.

Anyone believing that the town is timewarped and totally traditional is mistaken. Proof of this is the fact that there is a hugely popular LGBT weekend at the end of the month featuring the leadership of Ireland’s colourful top drag queen Panti Bliss!

Some of the old souls must be spinning in their graves at this development but it is indicative of the new and different Ireland into which the ancient matchmaking tradition has strongly survived.

I have words of advice for the bachelors. Beware of the reality that the sulphurous spa waters of Lisdoonvarna, though they may be health-giving, taste absolutely foul.

Also be well aware that packs of lively spinsters from all parts of the globe, not shy colleens at all, and liberated by feminism, can often be as predatory in the romantic chase as wild young Cork fellas used be in the past.

But sure that is all part of the craic of a mad merry month that is, at the very least, guaranteed to brighten your spirits before the swallows fly away again and the evenings dark up.

And lads, if you get lucky, and many do, all of your future winters will be brighter and better because you upped stakes and headed up to Lisdoonvarna.


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