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The Story Behind The 160+ Year Old Lisdoonvarna Matchmaking Festival

The Story Behind The 160+ Year Old Lisdoonvarna Matchmaking Festival

Although not quick as quirky as the Puck Fair in Killorglin, the now-iconic Lisdoonvarna Matchmaking Festival is one of the more unique festivals in Ireland.

If you’re jaded with speed dating and disenchanted with online dating sites, consider heading down to the peaceful spa town of Lisdoonvarna in Clare.

This rural village is famous for the annual Lisdoonvarna Matchmaking Festival, the largest in Europe, as it happens.

Each September, it attracts around 40,000 hopeful singletons in search of true love. In the guide below, you’ll find out everything you need to know.

Some quick need-to-knows about the Lisdoonvarna Matchmaking Festival

Lisdoonvarna festival

Photos via Lisdoonvarna Matchmaking Festival on Instagram

Although a visit to the Lisdoonvarna festival is fairly straightforward, there are a few need-to-knows that’ll make your visit that bit more enjoyable.

1. Location

The Lisdoonvarna festival takes place, unsurprisingly enough, in the lively little town of Lisdoonvarna in Clare, not far from Doolin. If you’re debating a visit in 2022, see our Lisdoonvarna accommodation guide for advice on where to stay.

2. Where it takes place (and when)   

The Lisdoonvarna Matchmaking Festival takes over the bars, pubs, hotels and streets of Lisdoonvarna (population just 739), a rural village in the Burren, an unspoiled area of Co. Clare. The festival takes place throughout the month of September. 

3. A snappy history   

The Lisdoonvarna Matchmaking Festival started over 160 years ago. The spa opened in 1845 and the opening of the West Clare Railway shortly afterwards boosted visitor numbers. September was the peak month for tourism and coincided with the end of the harvest when eligible bachelor farmers flocked into town in search of love and matrimony. More on this below.

4. What to expect  

You’ll find the modern-day Lisdoonvarna festival includes lively dancing and singing, social get-togethers and daily matchmaking services provided by Willie Daly himself! 

5. The 2021 Lisdoonvarna festival

This years festival has yet to be confirmed. According to their website, a decision will be made on if it’ll go ahead mid-summer.

The history of the Lisdoonvarna Matchmaking Festival

 

The small village of Lisdoonvarna is a remote town on the the confluence of the Aille and Gowlaun Rivers. In the mid-19th century, these mineral spa waters attracted gentry, particularly young ladies, from all over Ireland during September.

Once the harvest was in, bachelor farmers hastened into town is search of love and matrimony. And so the Lisdoonvarna Matchmaking Festival was born, providing a month-long celebration of socialising and craic for eligible singles to meet and do their courting. 

The tradition of matchmaking  

Matchmaking is one of several Irish traditions that’s as old as the hills. In this rural area, it was difficult for hardworking young farmers to meet and court suitable young ladies outside cattle markets, horse fairs and the occasional wedding or funeral.

September became a peak month for matchmaking in and around Lisdoonvarna. Farmers, free from the harvest and with money in their pocket, headed into town.

Coincidentally, September was the peak month for genteel city visitors, particularly women, to take to the spa waters. Enter local matchmaker Willie Daly, and love and marriage quickly followed.

Willie Daly: Ireland’s best-known matchmaker 

The original matchmaker, Willie Daly, began a matchmaking service of those in search of love, creating a “Lucky Book” of profiles.

His great-grandson, also called Willie Daly, continues this important service today. He meets each hopeful singleton and enters their information in the famous 150-year-old “Lucky Book”.

Daly claims that if you place both hands on the cover, close your eyes and think of love you’ll be married within the year. 

What to expect if you’re visiting the Lisdoonvarna Festival for the first time

2021 festival

Photo by michelangeloop (Shutterstock)

Despite being a 160-year old tradition, the Lisdoonvarna festival has moved with the times. It now includes music by Irish and international musicians as well as a DJ line-up (Ibiza eat your heart out!). Here’s more of an insight into what to expect if you visit (note: 

Music and dancing

The Lisdoonvarna Matchmaking Festival has an impressive line-up of live music and dancing both midweek and at weekends. Learn to Square Dance or join in a ceili as you mix and mingle with strangers and soon-to-be friends in pubs and bars. 

The matching

Willie Daly provides his love-matching consultations from a seat at the Matchmaker Bar and there’s live music by top performers such as Pat Dowling and the Moynihan Brothers. The Ritz, the Royal Spa and the Spa Wells Heritage Centre all host events including DJs, country music and lively entertainment for all ages.

Things to do near Lisdoonvarna while you’re there

One of the beauties of Lisdoonvarna is that it’s a short spin away from a clatter of other attractions, both man-made and natural.

Below, you’ll find a handful of things to see and do a stone’s throw from Lisdoonvarna, from hikes and walks to caves, towns and much more.

1. Doolin Cave (7 minute drive)

the doolin cave

Photo by Johannes Rigg (Shutterstock)

Take a break from partying and visit the Doolin Cave, home to Europe’s longest free-standing stalactite. This dripping Great Stalactite hangs down for 7.3 metres (23 feet) and it’s still growing, albeit very, very slowly.

Open daily for guided cave tours, the Doolin Cave is an amazing natural feature of this karst region. There’s also a pottery, farmland nature trail and café. There’s plenty of things to do in Doolin while you’re there, too!

2. Doonagore Castle (9 minute drive)

Doonagore Castle

Photo by shutterupeire (Shutterstock)

The Disney-esque Doonagore Castle has an ugly past as the site of 170 murders! Now restored, this 16th century turreted tower house is one the most popular places to visit in Clare. The sea view is pretty special too. When one of the Spanish Armada ships ran aground in 1588, the crew struggled ashore only to be hung at the castle or nearby Hangman’s Hill. 

3. The Burren (10 minute drive)

the burren

Photo by MNStudio (Shutterstock)

How about seeing a little more of Clare’s natural beauty with a visit to the 1500 hectare Burren National Park? Named after the Irish “boireann” meaning rocky place, this is a preserved place of cliffs, fens, lakes and turloughs.

Home to many rare plants, birds and wildlife it has several way-marked nature trails. There’s lots of lovely Burren walks to try while you’re there.

4. Poulnabrone Dolmen  (21 minute drive)

Poulnabrone Dolmen

Photo by Remizov (shutterstock)

Situated on the high limestone platform of The Burren, Poulnabrone Dolmen is a reminder that this area has been inhabited by humans for thousands of years. This megalithic monument is the second most visited site in Ireland. Its upright stones and massive capstone were a portal tomb where archaeologists discovered the remains of 21 humans buried over 5000 years ago. Now that’s old! 

5. Cliffs of Moher (15 minute drive) 

cliffs of moher at night

Photo by Burben (shutterstock)

To round off your visit to Lisdoonvarna, the Cliffs of Moher are Ireland’s #1 tourist attraction. The sheer rock cliffs ascend 213m (700 feet) above the ocean and curve around the coastline to Hags head for almost 8km (5 miles). Explore independently on the Doolin Cliff Walk or enjoy the Cliffs of Moher Experience from the Visitor Centre. 

FAQs about the Lisdoonvarna Festival

We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from what the Lisdoonvarna Festival first began to what there is to do at it.

In the section below, we’ve popped in the most FAQs that we’ve received. If you have a question that we haven’t tackled, ask away in the comments section below.

Is the 2022 Lisdoonvarna Matchmaking Festival taking place?

According to their website, a decision will be made on the 2022 Lisdoonvarna festival soon.

What did the Lisdoonvarna festival start?

The Lisdoonvarna Matchmaking Festival started over 160 years ago. 

What happens at the festival?

You’ll find the modern-day Lisdoonvarna festival includes lively dancing and singing, social get-togethers and daily matchmaking services provided by Willie Daly himself! 

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