After 50 years of playing Cupid and matching more than 3,000 couples, Willie Daly, Ireland’s only traditional matchmaker, has what he believes to be the most powerful chat-up line, writes
“Don’t be afraid to go over and ask them, ‘Will you marry me?’ These are the words that are very sought after,” explains Willie, who has again taken up office in the Matchmaker Bar, where he will remain for the next five weeks, for the Lisdoonvarna Matchmaking Festival.
While the festival itself is 160 years old, Willie has been matchmaking for 50 years, following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather.
And while online dating via apps and websites has become a popular way to meet people, Willie still believes in the power of shaking a hand.
I would think online dating is grand — anything that gets people together is good, you still have to be careful. But at the festival, you get to shake hands and enjoy music and dance. As they say, A bird in the hand is better than two in the bush,” says Willie.
While there is a general stereotype about this old Irish festival, in that it attracts a mix of Americans and soon-to-retire farmers, the diverse range of ages and people would take most by surprise.
“There are a lot of nice, decent, respectable people, quietly hoping to meet someone. People from the ages of 22 to 65 or 66 come, sometimes even into the ’80s,” says Willie, adding that the festival is still popular with Americans but other nationalities are showing an interest too.
These include people travelling from Japan and Germany as well as the new Irish originally from countries in Africa but who now call Ireland home.
So exactly how does Willie go about his job of matching complete strangers in the hope of finding love?
“My office is in the Matchmaker Bar — there isn’t a door. There is a very simple form you can fill in. I match people with similar interests and I advise people to be as open as possible. Being open is very important. A lot of people are just looking for someone to make them laugh. They’re not interested in money.
Irish men are very popular. They just go mad for Irishmen. It must be the twinkle of the leprechaun in them,” he says.
“The ideal way is to come to the office, join up (fill in a form), and I’d go and search. If you join early in the day, I’d have a number of people on file that I think would suit different people.”
There are three things he looks for when seeking out a match. “My task is very simple. A lot of matchmaking is physical. I put people together who like each other physically. But you need all three really — the mind, body, and soul connections. You need the three together.”
And what exactly are people looking for in their ideal partner these days?
“When I started matchmaking it was very important for women that they’d have a roof over their head and a kitchen of their own. Then as women became more career-oriented, they weren’t looking for this. They wanted someone good-looking, that acted good, dressed smart — all those things.
“Then when the recession started up until last year, it went back to, ‘Is he secure?’ Last year it went back to, ‘Is he good-looking?’
For men, it hasn’t changed since their mother’s day. They want a kind girl, with a nice little personality. There is a certain percentage who will want to know, ‘Has she a career or a job?’” says Willie.
But it’s not all love down in Lisdoonvarna for the next 31 days — there is plenty of entertainment too, with country music stars Lisa McHugh, Declan Nerney, and Gerry Guthrie performing this weekend and Mike Denver, Derek Ryan, and Cliona Hagan taking to the stage next weekend.
There is also music and dancing in every single pub in Lisdoonvarna from morning until midnight for the duration of the festival.
For more information see matchmakerireland.com or you can phone Willie on 087 6712155 to make an
Leaving Big Apple in search of love
Seven months ago Michele Joel, a global marketing director for a tech firm, packed up her life in New York City to travel the world and maybe find love.
While two weeks in Ireland was always part of her itinerary, the Lisdoonvarna Matchmaking Festival was not.
“We were researching things to do and Emily (a friend she is meeting in Dublin) found the festival. We’re both single and said: ‘This looks fun’. But we’ll only be there for one day, September 16,” says Michele, who explains how she came to leave New York.
“I’m a nomad. I’ve one carry-on piece of luggage and a backpack. I sold everything before I left New York and left some boxes in my parents’ house. I love my job and I knew my boss, he was my mentor. I told him I wanted to travel the world and he knows me as a person. I wanted to see where I’d end up. As long as I have my internet connection I can work anywhere.
“I do Airbnb or a hotel and I just walk. I walk around the neighbourhood. I’ll spend a minimum of two weeks in a town but never more than a month in a location. I’ll look up cultural events and connect with friends of friends or join meet-ups.
My parents are married 42 years and everyone in my family is married. I’m 40 now so to travel and do this was really just to roll the dice; learn about different cultures, and when I’m old and grey I can say ‘I travelled the world for a year’,” she says.
When it comes to love, Michele has already been in touch with Willie about her ideal partner, but she’s happy to share the details: “I’m looking for someone who is confident and kind and who wants a partnership in friendship and love. I’m looking for someone who’s not shy with their affection, for someone who says ‘yes’ to life.”
I’ve always been a risk-taker, not a bungee jump risk, but social risk, like saying yes to experiences,” she says.
For anyone who might bump into her at the festival, she encourages people to come and say hello: “If you see me at the festival on September 16, don’t be shy, go for it. Anyone who approaches me, I always give them the benefit of the doubt, all I ask is that people be kind. In terms of meeting someone, there is always that social risk, but the worst that can happen is the person isn’t interested.”
You can follow Michele’s travel adventures on her Instagram account @m1cheleJ
Lisdoonvarna beats Electric Picnic for Stacey
For Stacey Doyle, 34, the Lisdoonvarna Matchmaking Festival beats Electric Picnic any day. That’s because it is where she bumped into Enda, her husband-to-be and future father of her two children.
And she had never planned on going to the festival.
“I was 22 and working in Limerick for the transport company Veolia. There was this older man there working with me and he was always telling me to go down to the matchmaking festival in Lisdoonvarna and I’d say: ‘What, are you joking me?’ Then myself and a friend were free this Friday night and the festival was on and we said: ‘Let’s go down’.
“It isn’t far from Limerick.
When we drove into Lisdoonvarna it was all done up, the place was heaving. We saw this bunch of lads walking along the street and we’re like: ‘oh my God they’re our age’. And I spotted Enda, he was wearing an Italian jersey,” says Stacey.
Later that night Stacey bumped into Enda, and the pair eventually got talking, with Stacey finding out that Enda was also in Lisdoonvarna by chance: “We got ready in the car and went into the pubs. We went into the Matchmaker Bar and that’s where I saw Enda again. He was tall and good-looking and we got talking to his group of friends. They asked us were we coming to the Hydro. We didn’t even know there was a nightclub in the town. I ended up chatting to Enda there, I made the first move and kissed him.”
One of his friends was going to Australia and they had been in Doolin the night before and were bored and were asking someone where else they could go. Someone told them about Lisdoonvarna and he thought the same as me, that it was just for old people,” says Stacey.
“We went to Galway with them all the next day and we swapped numbers at the end. I was thinking: ‘This lad isn’t going to meet up again,’ and then he texted me that evening to see if I got home. We met every weekend then. I handed in my notice in May, after I’d put in for a job in Newbridge which I got, and I moved to Kildare that May bank holiday weekend,” she says.
Life changed rapidly for the new couple three months later: “We did everything backwards. I was pregnant by September and we started building a house the same month and we got married in 2012. I never had any real interest in settling down and then I met Enda.”
They now have Shannon, 10 and Michael, 6. “We went back for the 10-year anniversary and the next year and we had such a laugh. I’d go to Lisdoonvarna before I’d go to Electric Picnic.”