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A Matchmaker and a Festival Keep an Irish Tradition Alive

Willie Daly is one of Ireland’s last traditional matchmakers, best known for presiding over an annual matchmaking festival in the western village of Lisdoonvarna.

LISDOONVARNA, Ireland — After 50-odd years in the business of romance, Willie Daly has a lot of stories to tell.

Like the one about the man who fell to his knees in front of a woman, followed her to the altar and only later admitted that he had not meant to propose — it had been a long night, and he had tripped.

Willie Daly, a matchmaker, on his farm in the western county of Clare, estimates that he has facilitated around 3,000 marriages, though there is no official record. (Paulo Nunes dos Santos for The New York Times)

Or the one about a woman whose potential suitors kept hanging up after asking her age, until Mr. Daly advised her to say she was young at heart. After that, the 83-year-old widow enjoyed two months of delightful conversation before dying.

“We are all looking for the simple thing of love,” Mr. Daly said, as one of his six daughters — he also has two sons — stoked the peat stove in his kitchen on a raw winter morning recently outside Ennistymon, a village on Ireland’s rural west coast. “To be cherished, to feel special.”

Mr. Daly — who thinks he is in his early 70s but does not know precisely because, he says, the priest who kept such records drank a lot — has been thinking about love most of his life. A horse farmer by trade, he is one of Ireland’s last traditional matchmakers, best known for presiding over the annual matchmaking festival in nearby Lisdoonvarna — a weekslong autumnal event famed for its all-day dancing and spontaneous, often late-night, marriage proposals.

“Everyone should be in love, all their lives,” Mr. Daly said.

Rory O’Neill, a drag performer and gay rights activist, said he was moved by Mr. Daly’s readiness to include gay singles in his old-time matchmaking book. Yet he was confused by the “LOL” written beside names. Finally, Mr. O’Neill asked what it meant.

“Lots of land,” Mr. Daly answered.

A version of this article appears in print on February 4, 2015, on page A11 of the New York edition with the headline: A Matchmaker and a Festival Keep an Irish Tradition Alive. Order Reprints| Today’s Paper|Subscribe

Source: The New York Times (1551 Articles)
Written by Sally McGrane