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Music, food and love at Irish Matchmaking Festival

If you take more than about three century’s worth of history as a tourist center and then add the talents of a series of successful matchmakers, what you end up with is the oldest matchmaking festival in the world and Europe’s largest singles event. At least that’s what the Irish say about Lisdoonvarna’s 150 years as host of a month-long event that brings singles from far and near to celebrate their singleness or to connect with the matchmaker and end what many perceive as a lonely status.

What attracts the 40,000 or so singles who flock to this tiny town (the nonfestival population runs at about 800) on the west coast of Ireland not far from Galway? Historically, it was the iron, sulphur and magnesium; the mineral waters that were said to bring relief from rheumatism and glandular fever. It’s not likely that the young and unattached suffered from these maladies. But, it is likely that the older set were accompanied to the spa town by youthful companions. When fall rolled around and the bachelor farmers’ harvests were stored for the winter, they sought relief from the aches and pains of their labors, swelling the September visitor populations and providing lots of business for the matchmaker, the clergy and the bankers.

By the early 20th century, in the way the  Irish have of creating sayings, Lisdoonvarna was known as the place “where parish priests pretend to be sober and bank clerks pretend to be drunk.”

Willie Daly is the only remaining old-fashioned matchmaker. He owns a bar in a neighboring town and has lived in the area his entire life. In a nod to the 21st century and online dating, his two daughters have taken up the family tradition and host an online matchmaking service. But Willie, in the manner of his father and grandfather, is the one to jot down the requirements of potential matches in his love ledger and hold court during the festival, which runs for the whole month of September and maybe into October. It’s billed as “five weeks of craic.” Craic is an old Irish word for fun, enjoyment, gossip, conversation, partying…whatever you might include in a good time.

Live music and dancing are big parts of the matchmaking festival. Many bars have live bands, with the music starting at noon and carrying on into the wee hours of the morning. This year promises 17 music and dance venues, with the earliest starting at 11 p.m. and the latest going “till late.” Traditional Irish dancing exhibitions are must-see events, too.

How does this highly successful event translate to singles and small town Minnesota? Consider the features of this event: liberal amounts of music and dancing, a good flow of food and beverages, a celebrity with a mission, even horse and pony races, and as many days as the local residents can tolerate.

Kristina Walz, general manager of the Hydro Hotel which hosts some of the musical events, says that Marcus White has been the festival organizer for 20 years. That kind of dedication helps guarantee success.

“To prepare the festival takes a few months. A good team is the secret. There is plenty of staff that is working here for many years now and that makes the organization easier. Everybody knows what to do,” says Kristina in her Irish-lilted English. She says many people come every year. “People from all over the world are attending: Australia, USA, Canada, Asia, Europe…”

Put out the red carpet, batten the hatches, and prepare for fun. That’s it. Then give yourselves 11 months to recuperate.

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