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Happy Sad Land
No Worries
Jack and Zena
The Craic
1900 House

Robbie Williams
- Somebody Someday

THE CRAIC (1998) - Extract 1

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In Lisdoonvarna, 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 a farm.'

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 evening before.

'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 work.'

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, you know.'

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 the match?'

'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 and you.'

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 very surprised.'
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