Finding love: the cunning craft of matchmaking

Clara Caslin

When you touch Ireland’s last traditional matchmaker’s 160-year-old matchmaking book with one hand and close your eyes for seven seconds, envisaging love, legend has it that you will fall in love within six months.

Willie Daly is a third generation traditional matchmaker and is the only one left in Ireland. He explained that the matchmaking gift has been passed down through the family.

“I inherited the gift from my father and his father before him,” he said.

Having practised for 50 years, he claims that he has matched over 3,000 couples in his lifetime. The traditional tools that he uses are his intuition, an understanding of human nature and subtlety.

He lives on a small elevated farm with horses, ponies and donkeys within view of the world famous Cliffs of Moher in county Clare.

Matchmaking is one of Ireland’s oldest traditions, which began in Lisdoonvarna, county Clare, when visiting gentry came to ‘take the waters’, which is a physical venture into healing, cleansing and rejuvenation.

Here, they would look to match their sons and daughters with someone suitable from the upper class.

The busiest time of the year for the Babhdóir, the Irish for matchmaker,  was during Shrovetide,  which was the marrying season in  Ireland. It began right after the Epiphany took place on January 6th. This was because Ireland

had misinterpreted a Church ruling set in November in 1563, which prohibited weddings during Lent.

It was taken for granted that Shrovetide was the proper time to marry and Shrove Tuesday became the most favoured day of all. Now, most weddings in Ireland take place on a Saturday but a few decades ago, marriages in Ireland would be performed on any day of the week except Saturday and Sunday.

Matchmakers were responsible for arranged marriages. In some cases, the couples would have known each other since childhood. Families would also try and match couples that they thought were compatible but sometimes the future bride had no option and could end up marrying a man that was up to 30 years older than her.

Once a union was arranged, there would be a date, which was always chaperoned. The girl’s parents would send a younger sibling, who would pick flowers but they were really there to make sure that no advances were made. These escorts were known as daisy pickers.

The tradition of matchmaking was common in Ireland until the 20th century, with individuals located all over the country. Matchmakers were almost always male.

Today, the largest matchmaking festival takes place in Lisdoonvarna every September. It attracts upwards of 40,000 romantic hopefuls. The current matchmaker at the festival is Daly.

When a person searching for love contacts Daly, he gives them a matchmaking form to fill in and return to him. The form is then placed it into his 160-year-old lucky love matchmaking book, which he says has special romantic powers.

The ancient book has been passed down through the generations to him.

“If you touch it with one hand and close your eyes for seven seconds, envisaging love, you will likely fall in love within six months,” Daly said.

“If you touch it with both hands while closing your eyes for seven seconds, envisaging love, you will likely be married within six to nine months and if you are already married, you will likely recreate the first two weeks of your honeymoon,” he added.

His matchmaking is a lot different to online dating, which he believes “is cold and a machine”.

“These days people need human interaction more than anything, sure isn’t everyone just looking for the simple thing of love and happiness? People are so blessed to be born and to be alive so don’t be afraid to fall in love and be loved in return, it’s magic and free,” he said.

A more modern take on matchmaking is the agency Intro Matchmaking located on Grafton Street in Dublin. Intro is a fully registered, Irish owned introductions service that launched in 2011.

Feargal Harrington and his wife Rena Maycock, who were introduced by Feargal’s brother, came up with the idea of setting up the company when they were out walking their dogs. They

wanted to become the most private and confidential matchmaking agency for people who are looking for long-term relationships in Ireland.

People inquire to the agency by phone or email. The agency will then explain their policies and how they operate to make sure that they can meet the client’s expectations and make sure that they are realistic in what they’re looking for.

They have 3,500 people on their books and the reason Feargal thinks that they’re so successful is because they turn away more people than they take on. “If we took on every single person that comes to us and we couldn’t meet their expectations then we’re sending people on dates with people it would never work out with”, he said.

“The three biggest issues for Irish people to get over are unwillingness to travel, academic snobbishness and age expectations. That’s why there’s two million single people in the country because people are so stuck in their ways,” Harrington explained.

“Irish people are brutal at communicating. They think ‘ah sure it’s easier to be in a relationship than not’ and ‘ah sure we’ll see how it goes’. The ‘ah sure’ attitude in Ireland is what leads people to a lifetime of being single,” Harrington added.

They were surprised by the amount of 20-year-olds coming in because they didn’t expect it but the ones that have are very health conscious, driven and their career is lined up for them. They aren’t drinkers or smokers and are looking for someone similar.

“It’s all well and good for people to go online to the likes of Tinder and Plenty of Fish or whatever else, you can be whatever you want,” he said.

“You can do whatever you want and you can have as many profiles as you want, so there’s no verifying the actual genuine nature of the individual,” said Harrington.

While traditional matchmakers like Daly rely on romantic powers to find people their other half, those looking for love can also revert to the wonders of technology in the hopes of finding their significant other in today’s hectic world.

Image Credit: Tomekah George 

Clara Caslin