THE Gathering has got off to a good start, with an extra 50,000 tourists visiting Ireland over the winter.
New figures show a 4.4pc increase in overseas visitor numbers between November 2012 and January 2013.
And half-a-million more foreign tourists visited Ireland in 2012 than in the industry's low point of 2010.
The latest Central Statistics Office figures reveal a year-end bounce mainly due to strong growth in US visitor numbers.
Around 1.24 million people visited in the three-month period, some 52,900 more than the same period of 2011.
Some of these visitors were attracted by the New Year festival in Dublin which kick-started the year of the Gathering – a marketing drive designed to attract an extra 300,000 visitors reconnecting with their roots.
For the year as a whole there was a modest 12,000 increase in visitor numbers to 6.5 million compared with 2011 – well up on the grim tally of just over six million visitors in 2010.
Tourism Minister Leo Varadkar welcomed the positive results for the end of 2012 and the start of 2013.
"I am very pleased to see such a positive start to The Gathering, with the positive performance at the end of last year continuing into 2013," he said.
There had been particularly strong growth of 12pc from North America, with a 30pc increase from Australia and New Zealand, a 26pc increase from Scandinavia and 12pc growth from Italy.
The crucial British market also registered an increase of 0.6pc in visits, which Mr Varadkar said signalled it had stabilised.
The greening of famous landmarks around the world for St Patrick's celebrations next month would also help build momentum, he said.
"The Gathering has got off to a robust start and the upcoming St Patrick's Festival will give us an opportunity to make further gains," he said.
Irish people are also travelling overseas in greater numbers with 6.3 million foreign jaunts last year – some 33,000 more than in 2011.