Ireland's Matchmaking Festival

by JudithG

by Judith Glynn. Willie Daly oversees the Lisdoonvarna Matchmaking Festival in County Clare. Dancing is non-stop. Love is in the air for all ages. The Cliffs of Moher are nearby.

Forget about Internet dating. That can produce a deeper loneliness when clicking on anonymous photos. But at the Lisdoonvarna Matchmaking Festival, it's the chemistry of a face-to-face introduction that turns wishful thinking into a possible mate. Add in non-stop dancing with flowing Guinness (and racing hormones since the men outnumber the women) and it's no wonder the festival has lasted for about 150 years.

One of Ireland's oldest traditions is matchmaking. And it's done openly in Lisdoonvarna for five weeks in the fall and for multitudes of singles. The village is located in County Clare, on the West Coast, with a population around 750 people. During festival time in September, that number swells to the thousands with visitors from around the world. Typically, people age 50 and up populate the mid-day and early-evening events; younger ages jam the venues until 3:00 a.m.

The History of Lisdoonvarna

Lisdoonvarna was already famous for its therapeutic sulphur-and-iron well water found here in the 1700s. A spa once operated on site where many bathed in the water. But the farmers in surrounding towns saw Lisdoonvarna differently. In the early 1900s with the harvest over and dowry in hand, they brought their daughters to town looking for a potential husband. Years later, the Lisdoonvarna Matchmaking Festival is still in vogue as men and women of all ages arrive from the surrounding area and international locations to look for a mate. Yet, the event is still looked upon as a local folk festival despite the numerous outsiders. 

Lisdoonvarna Statue Honors Festival
Lisdoonvarna Statue Honors Festival

The Daly Matchmaking Family

Younger Daly Family Member at a Sign-up

Willie Daly inherited his matchmaking skills from his father and grandfather. He himself has seven children, is divorced, a farmer by trade and horse-farm owner with a riding school. He's also the festival's star attraction. Most nights he holds court in a small front room at The Matchmaker Bar where he sits at a table with a 100-year-old, family-owned matchmaker's ledger. Some of its pages are curled from age. Others are stuffed with poems, photos and love-seeker applications, both old and new. If Willie's not there, a family member fills in. 

Women sign up for free; men pay around 20 euros for the privilege. Most of Willie's "matches" occur  post-event. although he might corral a potential couple onto the dance floor the same night they sign up.

Dancing Man at Lisdoonvarna
Dancing Man at Lisdoonvarna
All Ages Attend the Festival
All Ages Attend the Festival

"If you find love and happiness, it's like finding a gold mine," Willie said to filmmaker Peter Kinvara at a recent festival. "But love is more important since gold is cold and love is warm." He's a great believer in opposites that attract and believes some of his matches did turn into marriage. Married or not, many couples who met at the festival return each year to celebrate their good fortune.


Where to Stay and Dance at Lisdoonvarna

The village has one main street. The three-star Hydro Hotel has 110 en suite rooms within its 1800s-style architecture. The Imperial is home to The Matchmaker Bar, which is the festival's epicenter. The Ritz Hotel is located at the main square. Ballinalacken Castle Country HouseTo get away from the buzz, head for the 12-room Ballinalacken Castle Country House located on a peaceful hilltop with lovely views of the Cliffs of Moher and the Aran Islands. 

If a love match isn't made at Lisdoonvarna, the dancing is worth the trip. Non-stop music begins at noon and continues throughout the night at 17 music and dance venues. Men are not shy about asking a partner to dance. Women also dance together to keep the dance floor hopping. "Irish men are dancing fools," one local said recently  while watching his friends dance at the Hydro Hotel. "We practice all year with the cows."

Hydro Hotel Added Benefit
Hydro Hotel Added Benefit
Ireland - Panoramic Map
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If You Go

Ha'penny Bridge in DublinBe aware of the occasional unsavory character, married man out for the night, escorts, farmers who don't bathe and some thievery at the festival. On the lighter side, the Lisdoonvarna Matchmaking Festival represents hope, joy, fun and great dancing. If a mate isn't found, the huge number of attendees of all ages know they're not alone looking for love.

Lisdoonvarna is located in County Clare on Ireland's West Coast, 45 minutes from Shannon Airport. It's a three-hour drive from Dublin. Nearby Ennis and Galway are served by rail. For more information about Ireland in general, contact the Tourist Board of Ireland

Updated: 08/03/2020, JudithG
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JudithG on 06/12/2013

Thanks a lot for your comments. I went to the Lisdoonvarna Matchmaking Festival for one day. Didn't dance much and didn't "match" but I drank plenty of Guinness. Beautiful country. I yearn to go back and may be a home exchange in the fall.

kimbesa on 06/12/2013

I'd go back to County Clare any time! It's beautiful even in the drab months of January and February, and I've heard it's almost neon green in the summer.

Mira on 04/04/2013

Sounds good. :) Thank you for the article. I love that statue, by the way!

georgettejohn on 03/24/2013

I can think of a couple of people I would love to be able to send! Very interesting.

JudithG on 03/23/2013

Hi Katiem2, It's a really cool ritual/event. Loved it. I'm 100% Irish and want to return but haven't made it yet.

katiem2 on 03/23/2013

What a cool ritual, I wanna go, I am a wee bit Irish... :)K

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