By Patricia Killeen – World Radio Paris
After a two-year break, the fantastic news that the Lisdoonvarna Matchmaking Festival is back on in September, has reached Paris.
When many Irish people, at home or abroad, think about the Matchmaking Festival, it’s not only “the place” to find love, it is also so much about music and dancing.
The excellent music gigs at the Lisdoonvarna Matchmaking Festival over the past decades, carry the musical banner, described in Christy Moore’s mythical song Lisdoonvarna forward: and many would agree with his words: “If it’s music you want, You should go to Clare”.
I attended the Lisdoonvarna Matchmaking Festival in 2018 and in 2019 and created a link between Paris and Lisdoonvarna, through both a Franco/Irish big dance event and a dress designed annually, by a Paris based fashion designer. A dress emblematic of the iconic dance floors in Lisdoonvarna, interwoven with Paris, the Capital of Fashion’s, magical dancing scene. In 2019, Kim Bernardin, a Korean fashion designer based in Paris, designed her “Lisdoonvarna Dress”. Then, Covid laughed at all plans for 2020 and 2021.
However, in 2022, we are back and rearing to go! Sean Byrne, an Irish cuture fashion designer, based in Paris, created a dress in homage to Irishwoman Margaret Kelly (aka Miss Bluebell, 1910-2004) dancer, choreographer and founder of the renowned Bluebell Girls and Lido Boys dancing troupe. It was to celebrate the auspicious #111 anniversary of her birth. However, that celebration had to be pushed back a year, and tragically, the #111 harbinger of good times for Kelly’s legacy, has been shattered by the recent, shocking announcement that the LIDO de Paris is to close.
The dress is in late 1940’s romantic, elegant style, in resplendent white, with black straps. Its waist hugging, curved black peplum reminds us of the dark times Margaret Kelly overcame, of Pandemic times and also foreshadows the dearth the LIDO’s closure will engender.
In Paris, fabulous Irish singer Maria Doyle wore Byrne’s dress, at a graveside commemoration in Montmartre cemetery to both pay homage to Margaret Kelly, and to question the imminent closure of the LIDO. After 75 years of being the most renowned Parisian cabaret, its name as emblematic of Paris as the Eiffel tower, we just can’t believe it’s almost “final curtains”. Doyle spoke of her admiration for Margaret Kelly, a fellow, French based, feisty Irishwoman, and she sang the Ave Maria in her honor. With her pure, powerful voice reverberating off the tombstones, in the historic graveyard, I believe it was a moment of great emotion for all present – both the living and the dead.
Jérémy Bauchet (Lido assistant Ballet Master and former LIDO Boy) and Etienne Fraday of the LIDO both attended the commemoration. Bauchet gave an eloquent and heart wrenching graveside eulogy for Miss Bluebell. He spoke of the mark she had left on so many people, how she had made French cabaret famous all over the world. With rigor and passion, she trained three generations of dancers in her long career as Lido Ballet Mistress. The Bluebell Girls and Lido Boys are still doing Miss Bluebell proud, keeping their heads and legs high right up to the final show.
After paying our respects at the cemetery, we continued to celebrate Margaret Kelly’s spectacular life with festivities at the Café Blanche, a Bel Époque style restaurant, across the road from the Moulin Rouge. We choose that restaurant because it is just two doors down from where Kelly lived, and where she was arrested for being an enemy of the Third Reich during WWII.
At the Café Blanche, we were joined by local musicians and performers, Dino Salomon – Rat Pack crooner Camille Boillet – Starlite showgirl, Eduards Rutkovskis accordionist, along with great singers from Mnà na hEireann France.
Irishman, Edward Donelan living in Paris also treated us to an impromptu “stand-up”. Jelly Germain Ngono – choreographer, dance master and musical jazz tap dancer, sang and danced. Those festivities are recorded in this video after the cemetery commemoration.
Jelly Germain, is a legendry Franco/Irish link in music and dance. As a young man, he was recruited to do a dance battle with Michael Flatley in the original River Dance show. He maintains that performing at The Point, and touring with River Dance was one of the highlights of his successful career.
During lockdown and Covid restrictions we had a glimpse of what life is like without dances, cabaret’s, shows, festivals etc. It was pretty gloomy to say the least. It’s hard for cabarets and festivals, no matter how big or renowned, to get up and running after the ravages of the pandemic. In Paris, the Accor Hotel Group took advantage of the weakened, post pandemic position of the LIDO. Their initial acquisition offer deal was to keep the mythical LIDO cabaret running. However, they sadly reneged on that promise.
In the County Clare newspapers, they mention that the larger live music events at the Marquee and Pavilion theatre will not be going ahead in Lisdoonvarna this year. However, “live music and entertainment will ring out from bars and venues all over the village, for the month-long festival of music and dancing”. And, the most important thing is that the approximately 165-year-old festival lives on!
“Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom,” (Marcel Proust). Our singers, musicians and dancers, as well as entertaining, create a world on a higher plane, where “all you need is love”. And in Lisdoonvarna, you have the best chance in the world of finding it!
Now, what if our merry band of stars from the Montmartre commemoration and festivities, were to descend on Lisdoonvarna next September? If Maria Doyle, one of Ireland’s top performers living in France, who represented Ireland in the Eurovision, a finalist in the Voice France 2020 and the first Irish person ever, to sing in the iconic Pantheon building in Paris, was to step out under Lisdoonvarna stage lights, her amazing voice and life story inspiring and lifting us up? If Starlite showgirls, bewailing the lack of men in Paris who know how to dance old-time, took to the Lisdoonvarna dance floors? If Jelly Germain were to battle one of the Cairde dancers, who live in Liscannor, just down the road from Lisdoonvarna?. If Dino Salomon, nicknamed “the crooner with the honeymoon voice” by his Irish fans, managed to crank up further the level of romance in Lisdoonvarna? If Eduards Rutkovskis, accomplished accordionist, trained in the music conservatoires of Riga and Paris were to join his talent to Olivia Douglas’s in a two accordion rendition of “I’m off to Lisdoonvarna in the morning”?
The great Willie Daly, 3rd generation matchmaker, with love ledger tucked under his arm, zoomed into Paris on a few occasions during the lockdown, singing and regaling us with stories of romance. He maintains that “Parisian showgirls pairing with Irishmen on the dance floor, could lead to great matches. Most Irishmen at the festival, know their dance steps and have more to offer than they even realize”.
However, if the French contingent does ever sing and dance into Lisdoon, Willie will need to learn shorthand to document the matches, because when the “City of Romance”, hits the little “Town of Love”, cupid’s arrows will strike bullseyes!