An afternoon with Willie Daly - County Clare, Ireland
Imagine a man so renowned that mail reaches him addressed simply "Willie Daly, Ireland". It's true, I've seen the envelopes, the man is one down in fame from Santa with ten times the charisma.
Who is he? He is the third generation matchmaker, the engaging personality behind the Lisdoonvarna matchmaking festival, an experienced horse trek leader and author of the Radio 4 book of the week "The Last Matchmaker". He's also a big part of the community of Ennistymon and owner of the pub "Dalys". We meet in Daly's to talk about the Love Trail which is a six day riding trek across the beaches, cliffs and hills of the Burren and while you are riding, or in the pubs along the way, Willie works his magic on your lovelife. "Does it really work?" I ask him "Yes, we've had a fair few successes and it now has a better matchmaking ratio per person than the Lisdoonvarna festival".
It's easy to see how romances can blossom under his watchful eye. Willie seems to have a knack of bringing out the best in people . Within minutes, I had a pint of Guiness in my hand, two musicians materialised and he even had me up for a dance. This was at 13.00 on a Friday afternoon.
We stopped to visit Brad Pitt, Guinness and the other horses in a paddock overlooking the spectacular coastline. He indicated towards the bay where people used to set sail for a new life in America. In the run up to their leaving, there would be rounds of parties and sometimes a few proposals would be flushed out and, every once in a while, the girl would choose to stay to the secret delight of her mother.
I ask whether women outnumber men on the Love Trail. "Sometimes, during the day but in the pubs at night there's 17 or 18 local men for every woman". The Ennistymon taxi driver testifies to this "When I was younger, Willie, would ask us to pop down to the pub and talk with the girls. We'd ask how old they were and he would always say 18 but we knew that when we got there the danger would be that there'd be approaching 45!"
Is it any clearer as to who will take over the matchmaking? "Somebody, will do it" he assures me. "They all have matchmaking tendencies and are busy with other things now but when I'm gone, they will sort it out". He tells me that his oldest son, Henry, a blacksmith (from a couple of stories that I heard about Henry during my time in Ennistymon, he certainly has the big Daly personality and perhaps a book in him as well), is spending the winter in Morocco and another daughter is married to a diplomat and currently living in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Does he think that the personality traits, like an understanding and acceptance of people, that make a good matchmaker also make a good traveller? "I would hope so, we always try to see the best in people".
Back around his kitchen table, he shows me some of the letters that he receives from people looking for a partner. What about internet dating? "Whatever works is a good thing. Some people that write to me have had bad experiences with the internet. It's important that there's a certain amount of magic, an attraction when two people meet"
Endearingly, Willie hasn't had time to read the Last Matchmaker so he occasionally asks whether this or that story made it through the final edit. I won't ruin it for anybody with it still on their reading pile but the tale about Michael Collins easing a young couple's honeymoon nerves is a classic. The afternoon ends with the Last Matchmaker playing me the, not so romantic, honeymoon song "Mary cut your toenails or you'll tear the sheets" on the tin whistle.
- For further information about The Love Trail visit www.williedaly.net
- Willie's book "The Last Matchmaker" is available now.