'Mammy's boys' was one damning reaction from Irish women of my acquaintance to a recent crop of advertisements such as: 'Unwanted male, 25, needs lady to give back the joys of life and love,'; 'Inexperienced, shy male, 23, graduate, seeks woman'. Unrepresentative of Irish manhood, surely? But reading on, the eye moved rapidly to other tragedies - 'Recovering alcoholic widower, 49, not too handsome, own home but broke, seeks. . . .'
That many an Irish woman has come across these characteristics on their amorous travels is clear from the advertisements they place, such as '30-something outgoing lady interested in meeting an emotionally secure man, 35-45' in Dublin's Evening Herald last week. In John Major- speak, nothing else asked for, offered, or given. Other women spell out 'sober' or 'solvent' among minimal requirements.
The onset of terminal disillusionment comes when some women ask simply for 'foreign male', an objective intermittently listed in the Evening Press 'Matchmakers' page, Ireland's largest market-place for PO Box romance.
It has now been running for a year and, as Dick O'Riordan, editor of the Evening Press, points out, has recorded successes as well as failures, recently chalking up its first marriage. 'Matchmakers' operates on the unorthodox basis of printing the advertisements free, and charging for passing replies to the advertiser's box number.
This guarantees a vast number of advertisements and consequently maximum reader interest. Mr O'Riordan suspects those who read them with a curious fascination for entertainment far outnumber those actually looking for a mate.
For every bunch of male shrinking violets 'Matchmakers' usually offers a self-proclaimed Adonis for whom modesty will never be an impediment, as in 'Man of distinction with exceptional qualities. . .' and 'Tall interesting Irishman who is exceptionally generous, professional artistic graduate, cultured, mature. . . .'
With around 200 entries each Tuesday, the Evening Press spans social classes as well as the urban-rural divide, which is still a major cultural schism in Irish society, albeit a diminishing one. Gay and lesbian advertisments remain largely confined to the pages of the listings magazine In Dublin.
Rural Irish matchmaking has quite different undercurrents. Farmers dependent on the death of parents for the inheritance of a small farm that cannot support more than one household, were often unable to marry young if staying on the land, a predicament echoed in the old adage 'Protestants marry early for love, Catholics marry late for land.'
The popular playwright and author John B Keane once expatiated with biblical intensity on this blighted life: 'There are thousands of elderly bachelors in Kerry and hereabouts who have never once lain with a woman.' Recalling the role of an Irish marriage as a serious economic transaction, relatively few display the comic touches penned by advertisers in comparable English columns. Living in an ultra highly taxed society imbues material assets with extra allure for the urban Irish.
Here both sexes often state their ownership of house and/or car instead of more personal characteristics. This can bring out a less subtle side of Irish females. Two Dublin girls seek men who 'must be prepared to spend money'. A recent coy Evening Press advertisement proclaimed, 'Lovely lady would like to meet lovely gent with lovely car for friendship.'
Peter Grosvenor, the US psychoanalyst who asserted that 'there are a number of mechanical devices which increase sexual arousal in women - chief among these is a Mercedes convertible', would doubtless feel vindicated. True or not, there is something chilling about playing Romeo with no more than 'Man, birth date 6-5-44, property: pounds 25,000, single, non- smoker, 6ft, wishes to meet woman.'
Nurses, who in Ireland's overstretched public hospitals are arguably the hardest-worked and most heavily taxed of Irish occupational groups, tend to project their penury into print, invariably seeking 'professional gent' to offset meagre earnings. With Irish unemployment at 19 per cent, material insecurity is invariably close to the surface - 'financially secure' features regularly in both seeking and sought categories.
Rural Irish women have long had a precise and graded code for indicating a man's attractions. 'F T' ('fine thing') highlights obvious good looks. 'R F T' (a 'real fine thing') means very handsome, a good body and some potential in other departments. But the lucky man who warrants 'R F T A' ('real fine thing altogether') is a serious target who seems to offer all the above and a possible meal ticket for life too.
Not all bother with discretion. For honesty alone the following In Dublin advertisement from a 35-year-old 'worldly career women' stands out. She wanted a 'sophisticated, sensitive man, unattached, visually appealing, possibly professional, - alternatively illiterate and filthy rich.'
Against this tide there swims the starry-eyed devotees of pure romance, often rural residents. Hence the country lady who 'would like to meet an Officer Gentleman', or the young County Clare woman seeking a local partner, her only condition: 'Must be a gentleman.'
That description would hardly fit the man who late last year showed that hope can remain even in adversity - 'Business man in prison would like to hear from kind, good- looking, understanding girl 20-25 for friendship. Free man March '93.'