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Thousands of singles descend on a small Irish town each fall hoping to find their soul mates. Writer Mainread Fanning gets to the heart of this annual festival of love.
Text by: Mainread Fanning
Country: Ireland

reland: a land of untamable landscapes, hospitable people and a thriving culture of music, dance and storytelling. Celebrated authors such as James Joyce, Oscar Wilde and Bram Stoker all called it home. The “Emerald isle” has long captured the hearts and imaginations of people across the globe. Each year some of the world’s most famous skylines are illuminated in green in order to celebrate Ireland’s patron, Saint Patrick. Iconic monuments which have turned green for the occasion include the Colosseum in Rome, the Sydney Opera House in Australia, and the Statue of Christ The Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Yet little is known about another of Ireland’s traditional customs, matchmaking.

Matchmaking, or arranging marriages, is hardly something that the Irish can claim as their own. In fact, marriage has been exercised as a political tool across the centuries to unite feuding kingdoms and forge new territories. In contemporary Ireland, matchmaking continues to thrive in the one place Irish people will always feel at home, the pub. This delicate art is intrinsically intertwined with the Irish pub culture. Today, nestled in the dusty corners of the most traditional Irish pubs, you can still find “the snug”, a cosy room where deals are struck relating to land, livestock, and love. Crucially, the snug always had a door leading directly onto the street so that people could avoid the prying eyes of their neighbours having a drink in the main area of the bar.

One sleepy Irish town that has benefitted significantly from the matchmaking tradition is Lisdoonvarna. This quaint town of 700 residents lies to the west of the island in County Clare. In September each year, tens of thousands of hopeful singletons flock to peaceful Lisdoonvarna in search of love. The annual Matchmaking Festival has been running for 150 years, drawing visitors from every walk of life. From farmers to bankers, accountants to shopkeepers all share one goal, to find their perfect match.

Of course, matchmaking is not the only item on the agenda. The lively music and dance sessions provide the perfect opportunity for visitors to let their hair down. Each year the festival grows, and according to the New York Times, has attracted as many as 60,000 visitors in recent years. Now recognised as Europe’s leading singles event, the festival gives a significant boost to the local economy. According to Julie Carr, the festival’s marketing director, it generates around 3 million Euros in a domino effect. A significant portion of this revenue is generated by foreign visitors who travel from countries such as the United States and Germany.

One of the festival’s most popular attractions is Willie Daly who is widely accepted as Ireland’s last, traditional love doctor. Willie is a third-generation matchmaker who has practised his art since the tender age of 15. According to the New York Times, Willie has made as many as 3,000 matches, although it is difficult to agree on any one figure. Willie firmly believes in practising his art the old-fashioned way. In exchange for a small fee, he meets with hopeful clients and records personal details in an overflowing book held together by a shoestring. He then pores painstakingly over the mountain of paper to find compatible couples, often putting partners in contact through emails or phone calls. With more than 50 years of experience, Willie has more than a few funny stories to tell. He fondly remembers a time when a man proposed to a woman on bended knee and followed her to the altar only to admit later that he had not intended to propose. He had fallen to his knees as a result of a few too many drinks the previous night.

In an interview with The Irish Examiner, Willie reflects on how matchmaking has evolved over the years. In his father’s day, matchmaking was carried out for practical and economic reasons; people living in rural, isolated areas of the country found it difficult to find a suitable companion. But today, people have many more opportunities to meet people. Willie has also personalised his entries including details such as “a love of travelling” whereas in his father’s time, an entry might simply read “12 cows”.

Nowadays the festival caters to a wider variety of visitors. In 2013, the matchmaking festival introduced Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender events which were warmly received by the community in Ireland. Willie also believes that romance should not have an expiry date and that people in their 60s, 70s and 80s should not give up on love. His motto is “you may be an old shoe but there’s a stocking to fit you”. As a result, people of all ages attend.

Willie’s matchmaking book has generated a lot of public interest as he claims that it contains magical powers. According to Margaret Jennings of The Irish Examiner, if you touch it with one hand you will fall in love but if you are already hitched, you will relive the honeymoon period of your marriage. Willie claims that making a match requires a touch of magic, a “feeling” or intuition. Although he’s not against the idea of internet dating, he claims that a computer is too “cold” and cannot replace a living, breathing matchmaker.

In recent years, mobile dating has dramatically overpowered internet dating. The boom in smartphone sales has given life to a growing number of dating applications, making it even easier and faster to meet new people. Tinder is one of the fastest growing internet applications at the moment with a reported 50 million active users. According to Marie Claire, this has revolutionised the way that people date and engage in relationships. Nancy Jo Sales of Vanity Fair claims that the expanding mobile dating network has triggered a “dating apocalypse”. She maintains that people are much more inclined to seek short-term relationships nowadays and that romance will never be the same.

However, Ireland’s most popular love doctor is not so pessimistic. Despite the growing popularity in Internet dating, Willie doesn’t fear for the future of matchmaking. His skills are still in high demand, and the festival continues to flourish year after year. This coming festival will see another white-haired, cheery -eyed singleton join the throngs on the lookout for love. Who, you might ask? None other than Willie himself. Willie maintains, however, that he will not look for himself amongst the romantically-starved hopefuls queuing to see him at the event. This would amount to a “conflict of interest” that would essentially be “unethical”. Therefore, the big question remains: Who will be able to match the matchmaker?

Facts

· As of January 2016, the official population of Ireland is 4,696,141. According to Tourism Ireland, as many as 70 million people claim to have Irish links.

· Tourism Ireland estimates that its Global

Greening and St Patrick’s promotional programmes generate positive publicity worth €10 million each March. · In total, Tourism Ireland will spend €21.5 million promoting the island of Ireland around the globe in the first half of 2016.

· Tourism is an expanding industry in Ireland which employs approximately 220,000 people.

· In 2015, 9.3 million overseas visitors came to Ireland generating revenue of about €4.7 billion.

· According to Marie Claire, Tinder has 50 million active users who check their accounts 11 times per day and spend an average of 90 minutes per day on the app.




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Could you meet your match?


Ireland is a land of untamable landscapes, friendly people and a thriving culture of music, dance and storytelling. It is also a land that still keeps many of its old traditions alive. One of these traditional customs is the art of matchmaking.

Matchmaking, or arranging marriages, has existed around the world since the beginning of time. In Ireland it traditionally takes place in the pub. Most traditional Irish pubs have a private, cosy room called a "snug" where people meet to strike deals related to land, livestock, and love. The snug has a door that leads directly into the street so that people can avoid the prying eyes of their neighbours.

The small Irish town of Lisdoonvarna has an annual matchmaking festival, which is 150 years old. It attracts around 60,000 visitors and has lively music and dance sessions to help attendees let their hair down. But one of the most popular attractions at the festival is Willie Daly, Ireland's last, traditional love doctor.

Willie is a third-generation matchmaker and has been doing this since he was 15 years old. For a small fee, he meets with hopeful clients and records personal details in an overflowing book. He then goes through his notes to find compatible couples and connects them through emails or phone calls. He has over 50 years of experience and many successful matches.

In the past, matchmaking was done for practical and economic reasons: it was difficult for people living in rural, isolated areas to find a suitable companion. But today, people have many more opportunities to meet people. Willie also includes certain details in his entries such as a love of travelling whereas in his father's time, an entry might simply read 12 cows.

Willie claims that his matchmaking book is magical and that just by touching it you can fall in love. Hopefully this magic will work for Willie, since this year at the festival he will be trying to find a match for himself!

 

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Could you meet your match?

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Elementary: Imperative

Advanced: Elicit Vs. Illicit

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Match Making

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