Once a tranquil backwater a few miles off the rugged Atlantic coast, Lisdoonvarna landed on the map thanks to its mineral springs, which drew visitors seeking the curative powers of these sulfur- and iron-rich waters. Lisdoon — as it’s known locally — sprouted up from the karst limestone landscape in County Clare to become one of Ireland’s earliest tourism hot spots.
But water wasn’t the only reason people flocked to this spa town. At the end of the harvest in September, farmers descended on the thriving village in search of an alternative tonic: a cure for their lonely hearts. They arrived single and, if all went well, left with a woman who’d be their wife.
The meet-a-mate tradition — or at least the general gist of it — continues more than 150 years later with the Lisdoonvarna Matchmaking Festival, Sept. 1 through Oct. 8. Billed as Europe’s largest singles event, the annual shindig draws tens of thousands to this tiny town (pop: 739) for music, drinking, dancing and the hopes of getting pierced by cupid’s arrow.
The star of the show: Willie Daly, Ireland’s most famous matchmaker.
“Matchmaking is all magic, that’s what I believe,” said Daly, who’s in his 70s. “A lot of my pairings are by instinct, once I know what a person wants. It may be physical attraction or a roof over their heads.”
During the festival, Daly commandeers a nook at the Imperial Hotel’s Matchmaker Bar, where he waits for patrons to seek out his services.
“I’m there most of the time, but sometimes I’m wandering about the town,” said Daly, who comes from a long line of matchmakers. “People just have to ask at the pub, and they’ll know where to find me.”
His method of remuneration is similarly laid back.
“When it comes to paying, I often ask them how did they travel here?” Daly said. “If it was by Mercedes, then I’ll charge that person a bit more than someone who…