The 150-year-old Irish Lisdoonvarna Matchmaking Festival, the largest such celebration in Europe, will open with a gay and lesbian weekend this August.
The festival draws more than 40,000 people looking for love and is presided over by fourth-generation local matchmaker Willie Daly.
The addition is a promising sign in deeply Catholic Ireland, where gays and lesbians sometimes struggle to be heard.
On Aug 8, the Irish Gay Catholic Voice group applauded Pope Francis for saying he would not judge gay people, signalling, they hope, a shift in the Catholic world.
In Lisdoonvarna, however, accepting gay people is not only good policy, but good for business. Organizers say they want to turn the gay side of the festival into a major international event.
“As Willie Daly says, at the end of the day it’s about love,” says festival organizer Eddie McGuinness. “Ireland is leading the world on a lot of gay issues, and hopefully, we will have gay marriage soon. So the time is right for something like this to take place.”