Dungannon duo keep business of romance alive

Dungannon business partners Denise McNally and Claire Hughes
Dungannon business partners Denise McNally and Claire Hughes

Dungannon business partners and real-life matchmakers Claire Hughes and Denise McNally are helping keep the ancient art of romance alive and off the internet.

Instead of Tinder and other dating sites, many local singles are turning to their bespoke and personal matchmaking service in hopes of finding real connections.

Having originally started the Soiree Society as a means of organising events in late 2013 by herself, Claire, from Castlecaulfield, decided to extend her services to romance after meeting like-minded psychology graduate and fitness specialist Denise last October.

Their matchmaking company is now the first of its kind in Northern Ireland to have received official approval from the ABIA (Association of British Introduction Agencies) and to have been trained and certified by the Matchmaker Academy UK.

“We bring a fresh and modern approach to what is a centuries old tradition,” the women explain.

“The era of meeting in dance halls is over and many people have resorted to the internet to connect with people. However people are starting to realise the downside of online dating sites, with many concerns around false profiles, security issues and the lack of privacy. People are becoming increasingly disillusioned with the ‘one size fits all’ approach of online dating. This means that matchmaking is becoming an increasingly attractive option for all ages.”

It’s what they describe as a “completely offline” service, in which they personally screen and set their clients up with potential matches.

Claire, 56, is a former bank manager who retired after 35 years in the financial sector.

The married mother-of-two met Denise, a mum-of-one from Dungannon, in October 2014 at an interview, during which she was telling her about Soiree Society, which was aimed at unattached people.

“Denise got quite excited about it,” recalls Claire. “Basically we just absolutely hit it off and she came on as my associate matchmaker.”

Claire revealed that the majority of their clients were in the 45-75 age range, with many of them experiencing divorce, separation, widowhood, empty nest syndrome and social isolation following the loss of their own peers.