Modern dating is a wild ride. Catfishing, ghosting, and scammers can leave any of us somewhat wary of online apps. It’s almost enough to make us wish we could ditch the Hinges, Tinders, and Bumbles of the world and go back to a simpler time when people you knew would set you up on dates to find your future boo. But IRL introductions don’t have to be a thing of the past. If you’re really ready to roll some dice and see what blind dating adventures await, just go to Ireland.
After a two-year break due to COVID, Europe’s largest singles festival is back. The Lisdoonvarna Matchmaking Festival is a lively romance-sparking event that’s 165 years old. It may not be Love Island (thankfully?), but from September 2-30, the less cut-throat setting is also just a good excuse to dance the night away under a beautiful Irish sunset—whether or not you visit the matchmaker or end up married to a farmer.
The festival started in 1857, when the upper class would come to the spa town of Lisdoonvarna to soak in the healing waters while chit chatting about suitable matches for their children. There would be social gatherings, sporting events, and musical evenings, all with the hope that some careful courting would eventually lead to marriage. Fall was the peak matchmaking time, since the harvest was wrapping up and therefore the many single farmers had more time on their hands to search for a partner.
Today, the dancing, mingling, and drinking is all a bit of fun, but it’s the love matching that’s still the main draw. And this is where the traditional matchmaker Willie Daly and his mystical “lucky book” of profiles come into play. Rumor has it that if you touch this love book, within six months, you’ll be in love.
Holding court in the Matchmaker Bar, Daly is a third-generation matchmaker who’s been finding love for people for the last 50 years. He’s training his children to be future matchmakers as well, so the formidable tradition doesn’t die off. And with over 3,000 marriages to date, you could say Daly is good at his job. Or blame it on the setting, where the matchmaker’s sprinkled spells have an even better chance to take hold. After all, it’s easy in the gorgeous Irish countryside to get nudged into a wee chat, followed by a sojourn to the dance floor.
Although the festival started off as a way to match couples, the lively energy that comes with the month-long festivities is why the event is still around today.
“The Matchmaking festival started through the need to continue families, but the fun is in the drinking and dancing that goes with Irish matchmaking. It’s called the craic,” Daly says.
And there’s plenty of craic being had. Over 40,000 people flock to this small spa village over five weekends, where you’ll find live music from Ireland’s top musicians, dancing, and international DJs spread out in venues all over the village, including the Ritz, the Rathbaun, the Royal Spa, the Ravine, and the Roadside Tavern. You’ll be able to turn strangers into new friends as you dance in a ceili, a form of traditional group dancing. And the streets are buzzing as the party starts most days at 11 am with sessions at the pub and traffic light parties that last till the wee hours of the night.
The Lisdoonvarna Matchmaking festival was even referenced in season four of Schitt’s Creek and was the inspiration for the 2021 movie As Luck Would Have It. There’s even a spin-off weekend of the festival called The Outing for LGBTQ+ community.
Whether or not some impromptu marriage proposals are emboldened from a few pints is all part of the fun—or if you choose to accept. Just remember to ask about roadside frontage, and thank me later.