Why the future of traditional Irish matchmaking, as practiced by Willie Daly the famous third-generation Irish matchmaker, is moving into the feminine arena

Although saddened by the absence of Willie Daly the famous third-generation Irish matchmaker, I’m delighted to announce we found a ‘Lisdoonvarna style’ Matchmaker in Paris in time for Corcoran’s Sacré-Cœur mini-Lisdoonvarna event on Saturday 27 July.

‘Irish Country’ was on the musical menu, Maria D’Arcy Paris based Irish performance artist and dancer was resplendent on the dance floor while Annick Sansoni, Paris’ own Matchmaker sprinkled cupid dust and in Willie Daly style helped people note down what qualities they were looking for in a partner and made pertinent introductions.

The Bâronne of Paname, aka Mélina Sadi, also climbed up to Montmartre and helped Annick, drawing on her experience of introducing people at her famous Parisian balls. The Corcoran’s bar men also joined in the craic and pointed people looking for love in the right direction.

It seems a match was made and without putting undue pressure on the star-struck couple, we are keeping a watchful eye of the evolution of the romance. It would have been hard to imagine that a match wouldn’t have been made as Corcoran’s Sacré-Cœur was an absolutely ideal location for this event, located on the steps up to Sacré-Cœur, in one of the most romantic locations in Paris.

So you may ask, why do we need a matchmaker in Paris, which as well as being described as the ‘City of Lights’ has also been dubbed the ‘City of Romance’? Well, it turns out that Parisian singles, like Dubliners, Londoners, New Yorkers and those footloose and fancy-free in other cities are finding it hard to find their significant other and are intrigued by an alternative to apps and websites. It seems the idea of dancing and having fun with a matchmaker on-site while discreetly on the hunt for love is an old idea that’s on the rebound. At Corcoran’s Sacré-Cœur’s the bar staff, who studied Willie Daly’s book ‘The Last Matchmaker’ were also ready and able for the event.

So why a woman matchmaker, and why Annick Sansoni you might ask. Very few people could do what Willie Daly (1943 - present) does or what Dan Paddy Andy O’Sullivan (1899 – 1966, Willie’s legendry predecessor who was based in the Stack mountains in Kerry), did.

Willie Daly has matched more than 3,000 couples and John B. Keane maintained that Dan Paddy Andy matched many people who might have otherwise ended up in Kerry’s mental asylum from loneliness and the sheer lack of sex. Willie has been described as a ‘Love Doctor’ and as the ‘Last Matchmaker’ and in a sense he is the last ‘seanachi’ like matchmaker, who participated in the old customs related to matchmaking and marriage including ‘the walking of the land’; ‘plucking the Gander’; ‘aitin’ the gander’ and negotiating the varying types of marriage contracts outlining what parents signing over a farm would be entitled to after their child’s big day.

Today we happily still have Willie, but there is also a new generation of matchmakers. Although they won’t have to manage the logistics he previously dealt with, they will carry on helping people to present well and to find their other half. Many of Willie’s children are good matchmakers; Marie, Claire, and Henry have all at various times carried the family banner.

When I was in Lisdoonvarna I met Alsha his daughter who is currently matchmaking; she has Willie’s soulful eyes and lovely manner and has clocked up quite a few successful matches already. However, apart from it being in their genes Willie’s children, like himself, grew up around matchmaking and saw people shyly arriving at their door saying ‘I need to talk to your father’, and they would listen as the conversation would turn from horses to ‘I’m looking to marry, or my son or daughter is looking for a match’ and they would see their father nod sympathetically and give the matter his best attention. But how will Annick a self-proclaimed ‘daughter of the world’ compare with Willie who describes himself as ‘a child of county Clare’?

Matchmaking is very different from something like speed dating and requires a person with certain qualities. Not a prerequisite but its interesting to note that Willie is a singer and former ‘Stawboy’ and Annick Sansoni can add singer to the many strings of her bow, as well as being the queen of any dance floor (even in 10-inch gold platforms). They are both highly sociable and have an enormous love of life and are the kind of people that always see the glass at least three-quarters full.

In olden times Irish matchmakers were often men who had two caps; matchmaker and horse trader as in the old days horse traders that frequented cattle fairs had large ‘black books’ with valuable information on families and therefore would know about eligible singles from many different parts of the country. Horse-trading required skills such as being able to calculate the value of a horse correctly and being objective, it also required being a good conversationalist as well as being tactful and discreet about people’s private affairs. To conclude a deal required a man who could both drink and hold his drink. Matchmaking often required the same skills. These days horse traders (still a highly masculine dominated profession) tend to only match prize horses and not people so that’s no longer a prerequisite for the job and hence the gate for women Matchmakers has been opened. Apart from the no longer required horse-trading experience, Annick can certainly check all of the other above-mentioned boxes.

When I studied the qualities of a matchmaker for a masters memoire on the ‘Lisdoonvarna Matchmaking Festival’ for the Sorbonne, I came to the conclusion that a matchmaker should also have a social conscience, be somewhat spiritual and have the aptitude of a psychologist as well as being intelligent, astute, highly observant, a great listener, and have excellent interpersonal skills.

In an interview with Marie Daly, Willie Daly’s daughter said ‘that a matchmaker has to be an optimist, a people person, someone that would go out of their way to meet new people and remember everything about them and encourage them to open their hearts. She has inherited her father’s optimism and good sense and feels a matchmaker has to be able to communicate that ‘love is possible and can happen suddenly - it's like looking for one of your socks out of a pair, one day you'll be going along looking for something else and up pops the sock.’

She said the matchmaker also needs to go on gut feelings a lot and to have a great instinct and discernment and she added that her father really had ‘the knack’. Willie himself reaffirmed that matchmaking is a ‘knack’ and either ‘you have it or you don’t’. Annick, without having a prior interest in matchmaking often gathered people around her and matches were made without any particular effort. It seems although she didn’t consciously try to develop her ‘knack’ previously, it might have been quietly developing and waiting for an auspicious moment, like the 27th July in Corcoran’s Sacré-Cœur, to bloom!

When we look at Willie Daly and listen to him talk we remark his own special brand of ‘spirituality’ and his genuine interest in people and desire to help them. He is a man who counts his blessings and describes himself as always having been a very happy person and he would like to help other people have the same happiness he enjoyed. The beauty of where he lives in Ballingaddy County Clare is one of the enhancements of his life.

Helping others is a life choice for Annick. She gave up a highly paid job as an international corporate lawyer to open a fair trade store in Paris and subsequently founded and ran her own non-profit organization to implement and coordinate sustainable projects in Sri Lanka. She returned from working on a project coordinating and following-up on the implementation of water and sewerage projects in the Maldives before putting on her matchmaker’s hat and helping lonely hearts in Paris.

Annick is also a naturally happy person and can kindly put people’s problems into perspective with loaded but tactful questions on the line of ‘now would it be up there with world famine’ and gently nudge people towards the bigger picture.

Both Willie and Annick see the best in people and take pleasure in helping them to put their best foot forward. We can feel confident that they would never match any of the women or men that put their trust and future life in their hands, with a dodgy partner. Matchmakers in their line of work needed to be able to distinguish and weed out rogue fake singles from serious candidates. Like those who subscribe to singles’ websites and lie about their marital status, a matchmaker might attract a few dishonest suitors but someone with Willie or Annick’s eye should normally spot them quickly. Willie and Annick’s love of nature means they are also both ardent ecologists and want the world to be a good place so the offsprings of the matches they orchestrate can enjoy it!

You wouldn’t consider open-heart surgery with a second rate surgeon and should look for the same top quality in a matchmaker; matters of the heart are always delicate. Of course, none of us are perfect and a good matchmaker is a great judge of character, capable of seeing existing flaws and implementing a ‘god made them and matched them with a little help from the matchmaker’ sort of philosophy.

The Lisdoonvarna Matchmaking Festival has mirrored the myriad changes in Ireland over the past 167 years and one of the changes is that women are now stepping into formerly almost exclusively masculine shoes in many Irish professions including those of the Matchmaker. When asked why she thought she’d make a good matchmaker Annick answered: ‘it is in the culture of all communities around the world to strive to be loved.

Matchmaking is a way to help people overcome their doubts or lack of self-confidence. It has no downside, providing we only place expectations upon ourselves and leave our judgments outside the door. We are all beautiful and need to walk that walk every step we take’. So with Alsha on the job at Willie’s side in Lisdoonvarna and Annick on the job in Paris, it seems that the matchmakers role has drifted into a somewhat feminine domain and romance assisted by Willie and the new lady Matchmakers will be on the up and up in Lisdoonvarna the ‘Little Town of Love’ and Paris the ‘Capital of romance’.

The ‘Irish Country’ and Matchmaking Saturday night event in Corcoran’s Sacré-Cœur was only one of the Lisdoonvarna inspired festivities going on in Paris on the last weekend of July. The ‘BAL POP special Irlande’ on Sunday 28th July in the ‘CentQuatre’, pulsated under the patronage of Bâronne of Paname and Irish woman Patricia Killeen. Over 1,000 people flocked to put their best foot forward and Irish and French mingled for waltzing and ceilidh to the airs of Paddy Sherlock and ‘The Invincibles’, the famous SOAS ceilidh band and Esther Kiely and her band.

Maria D’Arcy performed a modern choreography to ‘Golden Hair’ (a poem by James Joyce) put to music and Cecile Greard from the Sarah Clark Dance Academy Paris flew through the air to the delight of the crowd. French people who went to Corcoran's Sacre-Coeur and the CentQuatre or who read about the festivities in the two of the main French daily papers (Le Figaro and Le Parisien) are considering attending the Lisdoonvarna Matchmaking festival which blasts off on 31st August and lasts for the whole of September.

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photographer Olivier GiraultCecile Greard dancing at the CentQuatre 'Bal Pop special Irlande' 28 July 2019