In the days before Tinder or match.com, legendary matchmaker Dan Paddy Andy of Renagown had perfected the job of bringing people together in rural areas. The late and great Listowel writer, John B Keane, whose book, Man of the Triple Name is a tribute to Dan Paddy Andy, suggested that Dan did more for his own people during the 1930s and 1940s than any other man of his time.
Keane described how there was more to the gentle art of matchmaking than land and stock and condition of the dwelling house. Dan Paddy Andy wanted to know the parties involved like the back of his hand, to have intimate knowledge of them down to the number of teeth or sets of false teeth (upper and lower); their ancestors, history of sickness, life spans.1
It was at a turkey market in Castleisland, the town which would remain Dan’s favourite haunt to the end of his days and the one in which he chose to be buried, that Dan Paddy Andy made his first professional ‘match’ in 1935.
The lady was from Cordal and the man was a fishmonger, agent of the Listowel fishmonger, James Jumpin’ Alive O’Hanlon.2 O’Hanlon had earned his soubriquet by his response when asked if his mackerel were fresh, ‘They’re jumpin’ alive’, he’d cry, and would demonstrate by holding a fish in such a way it’d jump from his grasp, ‘Stop that fish! … Don’t let it go home to Cahirciveen’.3
The lady from Cordal was very happy with Dan’s choice of match, and remarked of the fishmonger, ‘I always find his mackerel fresh and his herrings wholesome’.4
Dan’s Success as Matchmaker
The lady from Cordal and the fishmonger numbered among Dan’s 400 match-made marriages, 350 of which produced at least six children which demonstrated that on the whole, Dan had a very satisfied client base.5
However, on one occasion, a disgruntled individual sent a solicitor’s letter to Dan that he’d been duped in the age of his wife for no children had been born of the marriage. Dan, disregarding the legal threat, counselled the man, ‘Don’t leave the bed until you haven’t the strength to lace your shoes’ and sure enough, soon after a child was born.6
A Night at the Pallodium
Dan Paddy Andy also conducted a dance hall. His first venue was at Fahaduv, between Lyreacrompane and Castleisland, which he named ‘the pallodium,’ a small hall with a corrugated iron roof with capacity for 200. It was regarded by the clergy as sinful and the parish priest of Castleisland declared war on it.
In those times, missioners thundered and railed against sins of the flesh almost to the total exclusion of all other transgressions which fostered ‘an unhealthy and unnatural attitude to sex’.7 This is what the venerable Archdeacon Browne, parish priest of Castleisland, had to say from the pulpit to a startled congregation one Sunday morning after Dan opened the Fahaduv hall.
I now have something to say about a nearby den of iniquity and it is high time it was said. There is a wild animal after descending from the mountain on Fahaduv and it is the man of the triple name, Dan Paddy Andy.8
Fahaduv closed down in 1936 but Dan, not one to give up, opened a new dance hall at Renagown Cross.
Cinderella of Castleisland
Cinderella of Castleisland is a tale from this dance hall that arose one evening when a courting couple from Renagown were locked in an embrace near Castleisland, just as the curate came along, ‘sniffing out’ courting couples with his terrier. The couple fled, during the course of which the young lady lost her slipper. The following day the curate called to every farmhouse in the district in search of the owner of the slipper.9
John B Keane believed that it was miraculous that Dan Paddy Andy’s dance hall at Renagown survived for so long in the face of such opposition. ‘But Dan stood like a rock against anything and everything which might stifle the right of people to enjoy themselves, the right to kiss and pay court, to love, to marry, to dance and to sing’.
John B Keane described Dan as ‘soft at heart … all he ever wanted was to pull up the man with nothing’. Dan was the arch-enemy of loneliness. Many of his clients were men and women in their late 40s and early 50s. Many suffered from nervous disorders and depression for want of contact with their fellow human beings. Dan sought out these people of his own accord, ‘He had seen too many end up in the mental home in Killarney … many of its occupants should never have been sent there.’
Today there is no sign whatsoever of Renagown Dance Hall. Not even a vestige of the walls remain.
Dan Paddy Andy’s Legacy
Dan, son of Patrick and Bridget Sullivan, had his own successful marriage to Kate O’Brien from Scartaglen.10 The couple had six children, five sons and one daughter. Two sons died from Scarlet Fever in the same year, Andrew on 13 March 1942 aged six, and Daniel on 11 November 1942 aged four. It was said that Dan ‘would give the night around the outside of the house crying … he never got over their loss’.11
His sons Paddy, Jimmy and Johnny followed his daughter Mary to America, and after Dan died from heart failure on 25 March 1966, his widow followed her children to the States where she died and was buried. 12
It was said that a light was seen in Kilbannivane graveyard, Castleisland just at the time Dan passed away. And it was in Kilbannivane, in accordance with his wishes, that Dan was laid to rest with his two beloved sons.
A bronze memorial to Dan Paddy Andy was unveiled near Roche’s Four Elms Bar, Carrigcannon, in 1998.13 An annual summer festival in Lyreacrompane perpetuates the memory of Dan Paddy Andy, Kerry’s late great matchmaker.
1 Man of the Triple Name (1984) by John B Keane, pp68-69. Re-issued in 2003 under title, Dan Paddy Andy: The Matchmaker. 2 ‘Let’s call him Hourigan’, ibid, pp27-31. 3 Ibid, p10. 4 Ibid, p29. 5 Ibid, p115. John B Keane suggested that ‘it would be a work of the greatest importance if somebody were to record the 400 marriages … an important sociological work’ (p151). 6 Ibid, p115. 7 Ibid, p32. 8 Ibid, p40. 9 Ibid, pp33-34. 10 After the death of his sons, Dan closed the dancehall and abandoned matchmaking for a while. 11 Dan’s mother was from Raemore, between Renagown and Tralee. The Census of Ireland 1911 (Reanagowan/Nohaval) reveals that Dan had an older brother, Denis, and sister, Mary. Of six children born to his parents, four were still living. The Census of Ireland 1901 records a brother Pat age 15 and sister Bridget age 11. 12 Son Jimmy, who left Ireland for London in 1954, emigrated to New York in 1956. The family was associated with the Kerry Hills Pub in Rockaway Beach Boulevard, New York. 13 Further reference, Michael O’Donohoe Collection Catalogue, Castleisland (2018), p608.