THEY met across a crowded room, not when her eyes locked with his, but when he stretched out his hand and asked her to dance.
That was 47 years ago and Limerick couple Cecily and Albert Lawlor have been jiving ever since — returning every single year to the scene of that first encounter, the Matchmaking Festival in Lisdoonvarna, Co Clare.
Now parents of three and grandparents of six, they even insisted their son Brian change his wedding date seven years ago because it clashed with their annual outing.
As the month-long festival got off to a lively start this week, Cecily and Albert will be a familiar sight every weekend dancing their feet off and having the craic — she now 71, and he 68.
These veterans of the dance floor may be happily married for well over four decades, but there are many senior men and women — either divorced, separated, widowed or otherwise single, craving companionship as they live longer vital lives.
The Lawlors have encountered many of those aged over 50 at the festival throughout the years: “They come back every year. There’s romance in dancing - it brings people together and then they get to know each other better,” says Albert.
And does sex feature on the agenda? “Well I think a lot of people of that age group are more into friendships — but if it happens, it happens!” he laughs.
Where many touch base, not just at the festival, but all year round, is with Lisdoonvarna matchmaker Willie Clancy, clutching his 150-year-old book of romantic wisdom, passed down through three generations. It gives him an almost guru status — that, and the ‘instincts’ he professes to have in teaming people up.
About a quarter of the people who come to him are aged 50 upwards, generally 60% men and 40% women. Of those 25% are separated, 21% divorced, 11% widowed and the rest have never been married.
“Traditional matchmaking is coming back into fashion,” he says. “Computers are grand, but you can’t control the information in them and know if it is true.”
Eithne Buckley, who set up Munster-based dating agency Twoheartsmeet in 2011, combines technology with meeting clients on a one-to-one basis and says about a quarter of members are aged between 50 and 75, with 60% women and 40% men.
“After we meet people they have an option of receiving a photo of a potential match by email or text, but we never put photos of members up on our website, as confidentiality is paramount,” she says.
“Most clients over 50 are either separated, divorced or widowed and the majority want a romantic relationship but not necessarily marriage or to live together. A lot in this age group are independent with their own homes and even though they want to meet a partner they don’t necessarily want to make big changes in their lives.
“We notice with the older people that they would prefer to settle with the first or second person they are introduced to, compared to younger people,” she says.
“They enjoy the process of getting dressed up and heading out on a date to meet someone new. It gives some of them a new lease of life.”
Older romance seekers can be reluctant to upload their photos online, although they give quite detailed written profiles, says Josh Snodin of Elite Singles, an internet dating site launched in Ireland in July 2013.
“This may be because of security/privacy concerns — not having the confidence to share themselves online, or due to not being computer literate,” he says. “Just 11% of our current members are over 50 and most of those are between 50 and 60, with 19% between 60 and 70.
And although we emphasise compatability of personalities, rather than being a site where people just flick though photos, having a picture is important and we think this would help older people find a partner faster.”
* Have a select ‘date’ wardrobe, special clothes that you feel good in.
* Don’t compare to an ex. This is counter-productive, even when you’re not pining for the previous partner.
* Don’t settle for someone you’re not truly compatible with — just because you’re not getting any younger.
* Don’t take rejection personally; everyone can’t have mutual chemistry.
* Protect yourself — online with information; offline with meeting new people in a public place and physically if being intimate.
* Don’t come on too strong — it can seem like desperation — or play it too cool, it may seem you lack warmth.