Eanna O Murchu meets the man who has helped over 3,000 couples find romance
Romantic Ireland will never be dead and gone, not while Willie Daly, Ireland’s most famous matchmaker, has a hand to play in the age old art of “courting”.
For the past century and a half, County Clare man Willie and his forefathers have been responsible for the beating in unison of thousands of love-pierced hearts, and the man with an astute eye for pairing perfect partners is confident that the successful traditional trend won’t be bucked anytime soon.
“My grandfather, who was also Willie, did a good bit of matchmaking,” says Willie. “Though what he did was on a different scale to what happens today. This was the nineteenth century, and houses had no electricity or running water. There were no motor cars and the matchmaking was conducted at horse fairs or cattle fairs or at weddings, and even funerals. News about the matchmaker spread through word of mouth and people thought nothing of walking a good distance, be it miles from Ennistymon, or even from further outside the county, if it meant a chance of finding romance.”
In the early 1900s, Willie’s dad, Henry, upped sticks and moved across the country to settle in Dublin. There he secured a job at the Guinness Brewery before establishing his own pub and restaurant at Pembroke Place. However, after he got married and he became the father of two daughters, Delia and Elizabeth, the lure of the homeland proved too much, and in 1940 the Dalys said farewell to the capital, selling the business, and returning to County Clare.
Upon their return, Henry took over management of the family farm. It was into this rural existence that Willie was born. He also had a stepbrother, Michael.
“My father would have done a modest amount of matchmaking,” says Willie. “He wasn’t fond of drinking or socialising, and was more of a home person. People wrote to him asking about the chances of finding them a match, and he went with the flow a little. He passed away in 1972. After that, people kept asking me if I was going to do it. There was a need for it you see, just like there still is today. After all, I had made my first match when I was fifteen.”
Indeed, Willie’s first “match” is quite the entertaining story.
“There was a lovely lad who lived nearby me and he fancied one of the neighbours. She lived with her father and the lad was disappointed because he rarely got to see her. But I remember watching the pair of them at Mass on a Sunday in Kilshanny Church. When he’d be going up to communion her face would go red as she passed him on the way down, and then his face would go red.
“Those were the days when the women sat on the left and the men on the right. She was very pretty. He told me that he would love to meet her. He was sixteen, she was seventeen. One day, the father put an ad in the Clare Champion, saying that he had a pig for sale. So I had an idea. I told the lad that we would call to the house and I would pretend to want to buy the pig. He was too shy to talk. We got there and I knocked on the door. The father came out. He looked the two of us up and down before I told him that I’d heard he had a fat pig for sale.
“‘He’s over there in the pig sty,’ he said, pointing at a dry wall. We walked over, and Eileen came with us. She was beautiful, with dark curly hair, blue eyes and rosy cheeks.
“The farmer pressed on the pig, telling us all about his softness. Then he invited us to press on him. Eileen pressed on him and said, ‘He’s a well-fed pig, on barley and milk and potatoes’. Then the lad couldn’t keep quiet any longer and blurted out ‘Will you ate him with me?’ to poor Eileen. She didn’t know what to say, and ran out of the sty.
“Three days passed by. I was at home fixing the wheel of a car in the yard when the old man arrived at my gate on a bicycle. I was hoping he wasn’t offering me the pig at the small price I’d offered, because I didn’t want the pig at all. He sat up on the wall and said ‘that was a nice boy you had with you the other night. Is he a good worker?’
“‘He is,’ I told him. ‘I’m getting older,’ he said, ‘and Eileen will need some help running the farm.’ And just like that, my first match was made.”
Willie waited until he was 24 before he started matchmaking again. It went on slowly enough to start with, at horse fairs and cattle fairs. Potential clients would shiftily make their way up to him at the fair and prod and poke a cow before whispering in his ear if there was a chance of making them a match. Coy as you like, for they didn’t want the greater public knowing what they were up to.
“I remember one funny story from when I was eleven,” says Willie. “It was the end of a fair day in mid-November and the youngsters had been sent home with the cattle. The men convened in the pub for a drink and I was waiting for my father. At around 8.30pm in walked a small well-dressed man with a cap. He had a shake in his head, the kind of man who would react to anything.
“The men at the bar knew this and thought nothing of hopping him a ball. It had been a bad day at the fair and he had five daughters with him. ‘My God Paddy,’ said one of the men at the bar, ‘with prices so bad at the fair you’ll never make a fortune for those daughters of yours.’
“Well, he hit the bar an almightyful smack with his fist and said, ‘Their face is their fortune. And you’ll have to pay 1,000 pounds for each one of them.’ Girls were available for dowries back then. There were one or two matches made that night, but not for the money he initially demanded.”
Willie’s own marriage was the result of a bit of skilled matchmaking by his father. The Dalys run a riding school in Ennistymon and one day, when he was about 28, three women arrived at the house to go out riding.
His father was quite elderly at this stage and was in a bed in a room off the kitchen. When the three women got caught out in the rain, Willie offered to give them a lift back into town, but first he had a job to do with the cattle.
While he was out, his father dropped his pipe and he started calling for Willie to come and fill it up for him. One of the young women, Marie, picked it up for him, and filled it. Quite taken with the obliging young lady, he asked her if she would consider marrying Willie.
“I would,” said she, and the two would go on to marry and be blessed with a large family of their own.
When Willie thinks about the matchmaking in times gone by and the matchmaking of today, he feels not much has changed. Years ago there were mainly two types of people that sought matches – singletons and widows, or widowers. Now, you can include a lot more people that are separated and looking for happiness the second time around.
“Some people can be reluctant to go down that road again, as it wasn’t so great the first time around,” says Willie, “but my advice is that the second time around can be a totally different experience. I’m a firm believer in the traditional matchmaking system that is proven to work. There is online dating these days but the traditional system sees you meet the person and you can touch the flesh. Online you can take a chance, and it might not always be the same when you see the thing.
“You know, you only have one life and people will always want companionship, it’s in our nature.
“Irish men are unique – they have a lovely nature and way of looking at life. That’s why I get so many women from all over the world writing to me looking to meet a nice Irish man. From 23 to 83, there is no need to be on your own and feeling sorry for yourself.
“I have a lucky book that is approximately 160 years old, which was used by my father and grandfather. If you touch with both hands you will be in love and married within six months; touch it with one hand and you will just fall in love, and if you are married and touch it you resurrect romance in your life and relive a part of your honeymoon experience. I take it with me everywhere, it’s a good luck charm.
“My daughter said to me once, ‘there’s an awful lot of people walking around that wouldn’t be if it wasn’t for the matchmaker’ and she was right.”
Matchmaking continues to keep Willie exceptionally busy, and in recent weeks he made a couple of trips to the UK to address Irish communities.
“My bigger interest these days in working with Irish people,” he says. “We really are such a special race of people and one of the biggest enemies of people getting married is shyness.
“When we lose a friend or neighbour, that doesn’t get married, then that’s a few generations missed and those people won’t be replaced. I like to think I can help stop that from happening.”
Willie Daly can be contacted at The Matchmaker Bar, Lisdoonvarna, County Clare or by calling 087 671 2155.