For over 150 years, the small Irish town of Lisdoonvarna has been known for one thing: its annual matchmaking event. The festival began as a way for lonely, isolated farmers along the Irish countryside to find lady loves, but it grew in size over the years, attracting an estimated 40,000 singles in recent years, all of them men and women looking for their once-in-a-lifetime romance. The scope, however, has remained unchanged -- heterosexual. That is until this year.
Organizers confirmed this week that for the first time ever the Lisdoonvarna Matchmaking Festival will have a gay and lesbian component, The Outing.
"Gay people exist around the world and it'll be nice for them to find love and happiness," said 71-year old Willie Daly, a fourth generation matchmaker who helps organize the event. "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." In addition to the traditional matchmaking, the event will also feature entertainment from hostess Panti, model Jonathan Best (pictured), and the pop band The Dragon, among others.
Holding an event like The Outing, which goes down the first weekend of the month-long festival, August 30, has been suggested in the past, and first came up as early as 2005, but organizers said the timing just wasn't right. "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.