Saddle up and find your perfect match

Horse-riding by day, looking for love by night... Jasper Winn joins the lonely hearts at the Lisdoonvarna matchmaking festival

"ARE YOU married?" It was a professional, enquiry. Just as a doctor might ask about a nasty rash, Marie Daly, a fourth generation matchmaker, was leading a small group of singles into the darkness of County Clare to go drinking and dancing.

Some were looking for partners, others weren't, but to Marie it was all the same. "Ah, love can happen anytime - it's like looking for one of your socks out of a pair, if you're searching away you won't find it, then another day you'll be going along looking for something else and up pops the sock."

In rural Ireland's past, matchmakers brought about the first introductions, then brokered the complicated deals between families - "plucking the goose", it was called, trading land and dowries for beauty and skills. Now the modern desperation for "introductions with a view to marriage" means that Marie and her father, Willy Daly, two of only a handful of matchmakers are enjoying a renaissance. "We get hundreds of enquiries each year," says Marie. "We've had clients from Australia, America, every country in Europe, from Saudi Arabia. And all because they know there's a fair chance we can find somebody for them."

While keeping up their traditional role, Marie and Willy also use their handed-down skills to meet the demands of tourists looking for romance with the "love trail", week-long horse trekking holidays combined with the attentions of a matchmaker. Treks lead into the startling landscape of the Burren with its Narnia rock formations, and the yellow, green and blue stripes of sand, sea and sky. In the evening, romance is brewed from the matchmaker's ingredients - hopeful strangers simmered in talk, drink, songs and dancing.

I arrived in Clare for the final days of a "love trail". As eight of us fitted into the pub's snug, Willy made full use of the crowded bar, meeting as many people as possible. "It's getting very busy," he muttered, settling down on a bench, "Lisdoonvarna is upon us." The annual matchmaking festival, Lisdoonvarna, starts in September, and runs for a month. "The place is just oozing with a kind of love aroma," enthuses Willy, "with fun and happiness, and the women laughing, and everybody is drinking and letting their hair down. Drinking and dancing and carousing, that's what it's all about."

For Marie and Willy it is rather like their annual trade fair and they busy themselves making introductions, keeping conversations flowing, smoothing over differences and searching their memories and huge leather-bound contacts book for possible pairings.

The next morning, revived by an Irish fry, we set off on the horses - a motley mix of beginners and others who knew their snaffles from their pasterns. The steeds were handed out on a can-ride basis. As we galloped along the beach overlooking the Aran islands, I tried in vain to spy "love trail" behaviour among the riders.

The exhilaration of pounding along the sand seemed to have wiped away all thoughts of romance. But as Deidre, whom I met in Ennistymon later, can testify, love has a way of galloping up on you when you are not looking. She booked her holiday with the Dalys to ride horses, nothing else. "But Willy and Marie are always working for you, so it was horse trekking to start with and then I ended up being matched up." Deidre still looked happily surprised. "It was to someone else on the trail. He had no intention of anything happening either but the Dalys were very right about us. From the beginning they were trying to set us up, and we were, 'No, no, we're not interested', but it just worked in the end, and we've been together for months now."

Willy and I dropped into the nightly ceilidh at the Falls Hotel late that night. The dancers were having a wild time. As the music slowed couples paired off to spin around the floor clasped in each other's arms. Willy looked over the dance floor with a proprietorial eye. "There are men who'd contact me and they'd love to meet a woman, but it would take them a while to get into the hang of talking to a woman again - they'd be like an old tractor that wasn't used for a while, hard to get started. But when they meet the right woman they might have 20 or 30 years of unused love to lavish on her."

I had a feeling that I too had been entered into their mental ledger, and that in the unlikely event of a client demanding introductions to barely solvent, chronically unreliable writers with a penchant for guitars and horses, I might get a call.

FACT FILE

the love trail

Getting there

Aer Lingus (tel: 0181-899 4747) flies from the UK to Shannon airport. Murray's Car Hire has airport desks and offers good deals.

Where to stay

Accommodation is at a premium during the Lisdoonvarna festival, especially on the last weekend. Local tourist offices might be able to arrange b&bs, but be prepared to drive further out. The Hydro Hotel in Lisdoonvarna is right in the thick of things.

What to do

The Lisdoonvarna Matchmaking Festival takes place from the last weekend in August to the first weekend in October. There are dances and live music daily in the town and surrounding villages. The climax of the festival is the last weekend (2-4 October). Events include art displays and horse racing, and the town has a famous spa.

Willy and Marie Daly run the Love Trail from September to mid-October. Trails take six days and include accommodation. Evenings include dances, pubs and meals out. Shorter rides and day rides are also available. Willy Daly, Ballingaddy, Ennistymon, County Clare, Ireland (tel: 00 353 657 1385).

Further information

The Irish Tourist Office, 150 New Bond Street, London W1 (tel: 0171-493 3201).

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
British musician Mark Ronson arrives for the UK premiere of the film 'Mortdecai'
music
Voices
Winston Churchill, then prime minister, outside No 10 in June 1943
voicesA C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
Sport
footballBrighton vs Arsenal match report
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has spoken about the lack of opportunities for black British actors in the UK
film
News
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Old Royal Naval College: ORNC Visitor Experience Volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary work: Old Royal Naval College: Join our team of friendly volu...

    Recruitment Genius: Customer Service / Sales Assistant

    £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This airport parking organisation are looking...

    Recruitment Genius: PCV Bus Drivers

    £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Do you enjoy bus driving and are looking for ...

    Ashdown Group: IT Support Technician - York

    £18000 - £20000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: IT Support Technician - Y...

    Day In a Page

    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
    Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

    Diana Krall interview

    The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
    Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

    Pinstriped for action

    A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
    Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

    Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

    'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

    Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

    Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
    Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us