This photo is of Blarney castle, but no joke — if you head to Lisdoonvarna, a tiny town in the west of Ireland, until October 4, you’ll meet more available men, (you will be way outnumbered if you’re female), than you think might even exist. Many come from Europe, some from the U.S., as do women, flying into the west of Ireland, to Limerick airport; the town is 38 miles north.
More than 5,000 people annually attend the world’s oldest and largest singles festival, from August 28 to October 4, cramming the two streets of a town so small the bank arrives every week on wheels.
They line the sidewalks, throng the pubs, dance with abandon, many determined to leave with a girlfriend, maybe even a wife. The 150-year-old festival — which I attended and wrote about for the Washington Post — is truly a little nuts in the level and ferocity of male attention it offers. If you’re arriving from a place like New York City, where even if you’re Cindy Crawford-esque, speak fluent Urdu and have a Phd in nuclear physics, someone is bound to deem your ankles too fat, Lisdoonvarna’s brand of open-armed acceptance is sort of refreshing. For a few lovely Irish days, at least, what New York Times writer John Tierney famously dubbed the Flaw-o-Meter — the internal critic that deems all potential mates never quite good enough — is dialed way, way down.
I managed to knock the mirror of my rental car — (if you think driving on the left is tough, try parallel parking) — into the street there and, as though I were a Jane Austen heroine dropping a glove or hankie, half a dozen men gallantly and eagerly rushed to help me. Pregnant women in NYC can’t even get a subway seat! Walk down the stairs of your hotel in the morning and a sea of guys stares up at you with undisguised appreciation. It’s sort of fun, sort of exhausting.
While the city slickers drive in from Dublin, Cork or Belfast, the festival, and town matchmaker Willie Daly (who I interviewed), really offer a time-honored method to meet women, lots of women, for busy, hardworking bachelor farmers who — as one told the BBC this week — never meet any women month to month, let alone year to year. When I was there, some stood miserably in the corner of each room, shy and tongue-tied, their rough hands and choppy haircuts and thick tweed jackets signaling their rural and resolutely unpolished status.
It’s not your smooth-talking eHarmony crowd, that’s for sure. But there’s a joyful quality (amid the scary drunks) to happily admitting you’re single-and-looking, as are a few thousand others there for the same reason. No one pretends to be perfect nor rushes though six-minute speed dates like some nasty job interview. The age range is also refreshingly human, from locals in their 20s to still-hopeful men and women in their 70s or beyond. With dances on all day, lots of pubs, beautiful countryside views and comfy hotel sofas you can settle into for a cosy chat with a likely prospect, you can stay the weekend and enjoy a beautiful place that just happens to be, for a brief few weeks, a target-rich environment.
If for nothing else, go for the craic!