Lisdoonvarna. It’s the town that famed Irish folk singer Christy Moore reminds us is known only for one thing – matchmaking.
Now it is making the pages of Out, the leading gay magazine in the U.S. because of its LGBT matchmaking festival.
The sleepy little County Clare village of 822 people swells by up to 40,000 lonely hearts each August for the annual matchmaking festival, one of the most famous events on the Irish calendar.
But this year and this weekend something new will happen that could shake the dust of this longstanding singles fest. Alongside the lonely farmers and their lady loves seeking a budding heterosexual romance, for the first time in the event's 150 year history there will be an added gay and lesbian component called The Outing.
For local man Willy Daly, a fourth generation matchmaker, it’s all in a days work.
“Gay people exist around the world and it'll be nice for them to find love and happiness,” the 71-year-old said.
Daly told the new issue of Out magazine, the most prominent LGBT publication in the U.S., that he’s sure The Outing will be a bit of challenge, at least to begin with, but he was philosophical.
“I've never done anything like this before. I’ve done the matchmaking for maybe 50 years or so, but I've never done anything like this. So it's going to be quite new. It'll definitely be different,” he said.
The Outing is scheduled for the first weekend of the month-long festival beginning this Friday, August 30. Although first suggested as far back as 2005, the organizers said the timing just wasn’t right until this year.
“It was kind of shelved until this year and with civil marriage possibly coming in next year with the referendum, with civil partnerships having come in and with just a lot more interest in gay culture in Ireland, they decided this year would be the year to do it,” event director Donal Mulligan told the BBC.
That means that the locals will get a peek at how the gays throw a party once the event begins on Friday. In addition to the traditional matchmaking events, the weekend will also feature live entertainment from hostess and legendary Irish drag queen Panti, model Jonathan Best, and the pop band the Dragon among others.
But don’t think gays plan to upend the festival’s traditions. On the contrary, Lisdoonvarna’s traditions will still be at the core of The Outing, say the organizers Donal Mulligan and Eddie McGuinness.
The pair have organized high profile events for Dublin’s LGBT community for years, and it’s not the first time they have blended elements of Irish tradition with gay culture, they say.
“We’re not by any means coming in and wiping the whole 157 years of Lisdoonvarna history,” Mulligan told The Irish Times.
“The whole idea is that we’re taking elements of it that we know are going to work, so there’s ceili dancing, there’s a tea dance and all those traditional things, and then we’re heaping on top of that drag queens and crazy performance nutters from the U.K. It’s not changing things too much.”
Panti, Ireland’s most famous drag queen played by Rory O’Neill, will be the face of The Outing at the festival.
“I know what west of Ireland festivals are like, so I have no illusions of daisies and roses, and also, they can get really rowdy,” she told the press.
“I’ve been to every town up and down this country, but I haven’t been to Lisdoonvarna before, so that’s going to be beautiful. I think people in small towns don’t get drag queens, but everybody loves a big clown and essentially that’s what I am.”
The festival will support the anti-bullying organization BelongTo, which works to reduce homophobic bullying and build a more Irish inclusive society.