Ireland's tourism industry shrunk 10 percent this year. But the matchmaking festival annually draws some 40,000 singles – and millions of dollars.
That’s when some 40,000 revelers descend on the village from all over Ireland and farther afield with one thing on their minds: romance.
The village’s 150-year-old Matchmaking Festival is the largest of its kind in Europe, and it utterly transforms this sleepy place.
In Lisdoonvarna in September, love is a religion and its messiah is Willy Daly, Ireland’s last remaining matchmaker. “Matchmaking would be a kind of a magical thing,” he says, stroking his beard in the sun outside his house on a recent weekend.
Matchmaking has its roots in the business aspect of marriage that was pervasive in rural Irish society until the mid-1900s. A matchmaker was often a horse or livestock broker – someone with a bird’s-eye view of the assets and fortunes of farmers from a wide area – and therefore equipped to match young men and women from similar socioeconomic backgrounds. Lisdoonvarna began as a horse fair, but the horses soon gave way to dancing.
Mr. Daly, a third-generation matchmaker, gets calls and e-mails all year round from men and women looking for love, and he records every detail in his “bible” – a tattered and torn notebook more than a hundred years old.
“People say if you touch it, you’re going to get married inside of six months. It’s the center of what I do,” he says.
Ireland’s $9 billion annual tourism industry has shrunk 10 percent this year. Lisdoonvarna, though, takes in $4.5 million in September alone, thanks to an unusual natural resource that, for one month at least, is recession-proof.