THE CRAIC (1998)
- Extract 1
Co. Clare, the celebrated 'matchmaking festival' was just getting
under way ...
At the 'first dance of the day', at one o'clock the following
afternoon, under the V-shaped wooden beams of the Spa Wells,
I met a cheerful gent from Kildare who surely hadn't changed
that polyester-cotton shirt since he'd left home. His breath
was none too fresh either. But the 'girl' (fifty-five, minimum),
whom he'd met last night at the Ritz, didn't seem to mind. 'I'll
have the next,' he cried, as she glided past on the arm of a
skinny dotard who'd economised by keeping the remaining strands
of his hair in place with lard. She flashed him the warmest,
yellowest of smiles.
He worked in a soft drinks factory
himself, but some of these people (he winked theatrically) who
called themselves farmers had as much of a farm as he had. 'You
take a piece of ground out there.' He gestured towards the Burren.
'Twenty acres and a couple of cows, that's a farm. Or a strip
of flowers at the front of your house.' He laughed. 'That's
There were bumbling amateur amorists everywhere. But up the
hill and through the altogether grander doors of the Hydro,
I found a slick professional. The slick professional, in fact:
Willie Daly, Lisdoonvarna's official matchmaker. He had longish
grey hair and a brogue soft enough to voiceover the corniest
of stout ads. As for the twinkle in the eye, he was clearly
the original for that expression. He had an ease of manner that
would have made the awkwardest, most hopeless bachelor boy or
girl feel relaxed.
Cupped in one pink hand was a large
glass of Jamesons; under his other arm was the bulky matchmaking
book, inherited from his father, with the names, addresses and
requirements of a huge range of seekers after love, from Offaly
cattlemen to Josie Esparago, PO Box 60437, Riyadh 11545, K.S.A.
'Is that Russian?' he asked me, sliding over a photo of a bikini-clad
bird who would have brought the Spa Wells to a frenzied standstill.
He showed me the form you had to
fill in if you required his services. 'It's very simple, there's
only about four or five questions.' He didn't have more, he
said, because he was an awful believer that in the West of Ireland
you wouldn't find a wrong man anywhere. 'You'll find 'em full
of love and romance, looking for someone to share their life
and love with.' Most of the men he'd be working for would have
small local farms, which was 'a marvellous environment', looking
out over the Atlantic Ocean. 'But there'd be a huge absence
of women.' The girls, you see, went off to Dublin, England or
America to work, and the farm would be left to the boy. Way
down in the West, it was estimated, there were twenty-nine men
to every one woman.
Now a lot of these men were very good-looking, well-educated,
'quite refined in a number of cases'. The biggest problem they
would have would be shyness. A farm was a beautiful place, but
very isolated, 'and they actually become bad mixers. Now when
they have a lot of drink on them they overdo the mixing, so
again they don't appeal.'
I had - I said - seen a couple of examples of that, only the
'All of a sudden,' said the matchmaker, 'they have the courage,
but it isn't the right courage. And when the music comes up
what they want to do then is grab a woman - but again that doesn't
Which is where Lisdoonvarna came
in. 'It's kind of called the love-capital of the world.' And
the reason for that was the very big opportunity it afforded
people to enjoy themselves. 'It gives people ... the music lends
itself to ... quicksteps sometimes, but a lot of waltzing, and
a nice amount of slow dances where people get a chance to talk
nicely to each other.' Then in the evening they might go out
to the coast. There were some beautiful drives out there. 'And
again, it enhances romance if they're in a car together. If
you meet a girl and drive back by the sea it's a lovely thing,
you know. It does a lot for them. That and a few pints of Guinness.'
Willie clearly had the mechanics of romance sewn up. After the
dance and the drive and the Guinness then you could make the
grab. So where did he fit in?
My question was answered by four women who tumbled down the
corridor towards us.
'Are you Willie Daly?' they asked, in strong Northern Irish
accents. 'What do you do?'
'It's a good question,' he replied, chuckling and turning his
Southern twinkle full beam in their direction. With effortless
good manners, he rose to his feet and held out a hand in their
direction. 'It's a pleasure to meet you.'
'We keep watching you and you were sneaking about and we said,
"What is this man about?"'
Willie explained. The men came to
him, the women came to him, he made the match. Otherwise a fellow
might be asking twenty of the wrong girls to dance and in the
end he'd give up. 'For 'tis embarrassing to be refused too often,
The ladies knew all about that. 'You
come to a certain age, and you've worked, and you've let life
slip by, so we're trying to make up for it now.'
'You'd have an awful lot of time left for doing that now,' Willie
reassured them. 'In my calculations.' He gave them each a form.
He was delighted to make their acquaintance. And he'd see them
this evening in the foyer any time up till half past nine.
'And what d'you do then?' the tallest of the ladies asked nervously.
'Well, I'll be introducing people around that period.'
What did he charge, I asked, when they'd gone. He didn't charge
women anything, he said, due to the shortage. But men would
pay between thirty and forty pounds.
'And what happens if they don't like
'Oh, if they don't they just tell me.' The women were not too
shy about that. Fellows on the other hand would almost like
any person you introduced them to. In his thirty years experience
men's needs were much the same - they wanted a companion, someone
to share their life with, maybe their love with, definitely
their farm with. Looks wouldn't come into it, only a very little.
Women, however, were pretty particular. 'They're looking for
a fellow that looks nice, dresses nice. I said to people recently
they might have a very big amount of land or cows, but there
should be big interest put on personal appearance. Ten years
ago it wasn't necessary, but it is now. Hygeine is a factor.
I'd say now to a fellow who's got ninety cows, "Did you
ever think of spending the price of two of them on yourself?"'
But was it really always for marriage, I asked. While he'd been
chatting to the ladies my eye had drifted down over the famous
matchmaking book. One of the entries read, 'I will ride everything
Originally, of course, Willie replied,
it was all marriage, but it had, in fairness, changed slightly
now. There were young people who'd walk up to him and say, 'Will
you get me a woman for the night?' Even a man of eighty years
of age had approached him three days earlier looking for a partner.
'Now I assumed his wife had died, but then he said, "She's
not interested in much now." And all of a sudden I knew
that his wife existed at least. But he said, "It'd be nice
to meet someone for a couple of days." Which is a fairly
honest statement - I mean 'tis a marvellous age to be like that,
although I'd say his mind had gone a little bit ahead of his
body all right ...'
And as for him, I wondered, did he, Willy, ever meet a beautiful
woman who mght lead him astray?
For a moment the matchmaker looked almost taken aback. 'Well,
I could have ... One would be open indeed ... You meet some
lovely people now.' But it was, he decided, regaining his composure,
a bit like a doctor or a teacher. There was 'kind of a little
barrier'. 'And if I was to pass that I think people would be