The Matchmakers of Ireland, The Real Valentines Day
Need a matchmaker? Everyone wants to fall in love and its been that way since the beginning of time. Nothing has changed about the desire but what has changed is how we go about it or how often we try and try again only to be disappointed. Ever wish there was an easier way to meet a man or woman? For centuries, people had arranged marriages. They married for status, wealth, security or to secure peace between two separate countries. Some of those marriages actually lasted and some were very happy ones.
The movie, The Matchmaker, made in 1958 and 1997 is about a bygone era in Ireland whereas a specific man or woman had the task of arranging meetings between the opposite sex with the hopeful outcome of a marriage illustrates how Ireland still brings couples together today. This idea of a matchmaker goes back to Pagan times and like today in Lissdoonvanra, Ireland, often matchmaking took place at festivals and parents offered dowries of cattle, trinkets, weapons and even jewels to entice a prospective son in law. Its’ possible, the motives were not always for the happiness of the sons and daughters, but whose to say these relationships were not just as successful. I personally believe that history is fascinating to write and read about and the art of matchmaking has a scene in my novel, The Sun Palace. But today’s times are different and would you want a complete stranger picking out your new husband? Apparently some people do.
Enter Willy Daly, Ireland’s own homegrown Matchmaker. With his daughter, Marie they are the fourth generation to provide a matchmaking service in Ireland. Probably the only ones of their kind. Mr. Daly, who began as a horse farmer and pub owner, now is known throughout Ireland as the last traditional Matchmaker. He is best known for presiding over the Annual Matchmaker Festival in Lisdoonvarna, Ireland, a week-long celebration filled with food and Country and Western music.
Daly keeps his potential love matches in a book, not a computer. The book itself is very interesting and was passed down to him by his Matchmaker father, held together with tape and shoestrings. He claims the book has magical powers and whoever touches it will fall in love within 6 months. He says if you are already married you will fall in love all over again. Wily charges a small fee to be one of the privileged few to have their name in his book but he’s not fond of computers. Snail mail and telephone are his communications of choice with those not in the vicinity to his small Western village of County Clare and he’s made love matches as far away as America. There are few events today like the Lisdoonvarna Matchmaking Festival held on the West Coast of Ireland but in early Irish history this was not unusual. The annual Fair of Taillte in Meath held fame as a time for the Marriage Mart, a similar concept to Wily Daly’s Matchmaking Festival, although a much more serious event.
The fair itself was not only popular in Ireland but also in Britain and Alba (Scotland), was mostly held for athletic contests and took place during the first weeks of August. Literally, the Taillte Fair was the Irish Olympics so naturally the games which may have consisted of spear throwing, chariot races, and hurling gained the notice of the opposite sexes as well. It was a time for keen competition and high excitement .Boys and girls by the thousands were brought by their parents to the Matchmaker. Negotiations between the parents and the Matchmaker took place in a private area set apart for just such a purpose. The last record we have of the Fair of Taillte was celebrated in 1169, by order of the High King, Roderick O’Connor and is recorder by The Four Masters. The monks recorded that the horses and chariots carrying people to and from the fair extended from Taillte to near Kells, a distance of 6 miles. Ironically this was also the year of the first English invaders, which makes one wonder. Why is this the last recording of something so culturally important to Ireland’s history but never heard of or recorded again?
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