Page last updated at 14:32 GMT, Monday, 14 September 2009 15:32 UK

Lonely hearts flock to Lisdoonvarna

By Tamasin Ford
Lisdoonvarna, Republic of Ireland

The Matchmaker Bar, Lisdoonvarna
Dancing begins at midday and does not die down until the small hours

If internet dating, speed dating or even the lonely hearts columns have not worked for you, then the Irish spa town of Lisdoonvarna may have the answer.

Despite having a population of only 1,000 people, it hosts the world's biggest match-making festival.

For five weeks every summer, it opens its doors to 40,000 visitors.

They come here for the dances, the live music, and most of all to take part in one of Ireland's oldest traditions: matchmaking.

Initially designed for hardworking farmers 150 years ago, Lisdoonvarna's matchmaking festival is now finding love for singletons from as far a field as the US.

Chris, from Atlanta, said she found out about the event from a friend who came last year.

"I've just never been to anything like this before, it's just fascinating," she said. "I don't know how the Irish do it but they seem to have a gene which makes them so good looking."

'Find Herself'

The setting provides the perfect backdrop to romance - sparklingly clear waters, craggy cliffs, and breathtaking views of the nearby Aran islands.

And there is another attraction: Willie Daly is the man every single person looking for love wants to see. He is a fourth generation matchmaker and the only official of his kind left in Ireland.

He said: "If a man wants a wife, he comes to me and asks me: 'Willie, you might find Herself for me.' That's a big thing in Ireland, Herself.

"Or he'll say, 'You might just find the woman of the house for me.' He mightn't necessarily say a wife."

Wille - traditional Irish matchmaker

Seated in his booth at the Matchmaker pub, Mr Daly thumbs through his lucky book, a matchmaker's inventory passed down to him by his grandfather.

"The legend goes, if a woman touches the book she'll be married within six months," he said. "Some ladies even sit on it to make sure it happens to them."

The matchmaker's main job is to arrange introductions for lonely single people, people like dairy farmer Colm Geaney, who has travelled here from West Cork to find love.

"I'm looking for a woman that will settle down that is absolutely mad for a man," he told the BBC.

"She'll fall in love with me and we'll move back down to West Cork to my small little farm and we can take it from there."

Living in rural Ireland and running a farm does not leave much time for meeting ladies. "My life at the moment is milking cows," said Mr Geaney.

"It's seven days a week, 15 hours a day. I never meet a girl from one month to the other, from one year to the other."

The wee hours

Farmers like Mr Geaney used to come to Lisdoonvarna from all over Ireland - that much has not changed.

Colm Geaney
Colm Geaney is searching for a woman 'absolutely mad for a man'

The harvest was safely in, the summer months were in full swing and the idea was for shy farmers to find a wife.

The matchmakers were generally horse-traders and so knew people from all over the country.

They would invite eligible bachelors to the town and then collect the generous dowries when successful matches were made.

Nowadays, it is as much a social event as matchmaking event. The dancing begins at midday and does not die down until the wee hours of the morning.

Looking out across the dance-floors, what stands out is the different generations present here.

People in their 70s are just as energetic and just as serious in their search for love as those several decades younger.

'I could dance'

And you will not just see those looking for love spinning around on the dance floor.

Albert and Cecily Lawlor
Albert and Cecily Lawlor met at the festival 42 years ago

Dozens of happy, smiling couples come back to Lisdoonvarna every year to celebrate their anniversary.

Cecily and Albert Lawlor, now in their 60s, met here 42 years ago and have been coming back every year since.

Albert said: "I was just 20 and asked her to dance and she refused me because she thought I couldn't dance.

"But then later on she saw I could dance and I chanced my arm again and she said yes. That's how it started."

Cecily, giggling, chipped in: "Whether it's by accident or by design it's hard to tell, but people do meet here."

The couple now have three children and six grandchildren so, for Albert, the magic of Lisdoonvarna is very much alive.

"It worked for us and we're still very much in love," he said.

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