It's travel hell but ash cloud has silver lining for hotelier
TIRED travellers stuck on the continent for days availed of planes, trains, automobiles and a packed-to-capacity ferry before they finally arrived home yesterday.
The gasps of relief from passengers in the 'Norman Voyager' when it berthed at Rosslare Europort were almost audible to relatives and friends in the nearby terminal building yesterday afternoon.
They were weary, but spirits were high as the 500-plus passengers made their way eagerly on to Irish soil.
Returning from Italy were Tara and Conal O'Reilly and Colette and Philip Quigley, all from Clonmel, who travelled more than 1,200km over land to get to Cherbourg after last Friday's flight home was cancelled.
"We were watching it on Sky News but we went down to the airport on Friday night and we were very blase about it," Conal said. "They seemed to be making a decision every 12 hours."
Eventually, when the seriousness of the situation hit them, they drove from Rome to San Remo and boarded a train to Nice only to be met by the French rail strike.
"By the luck of God" they were able to hire a car, which took them the length of France, including an overnight in Lyons.
Law students Beatrice Vance, Susan Duffy and Kerry Rowan -- all of whom are living in Paris -- were due to fly to Barcelona last Friday for the weekend, before jetting back home to Dublin for a two-week break yesterday. However, the Barcelona leg was cancelled and, instead, they took a train from Paris to Caen.
"They were on strike there," Beatrice said, referring to the French rail workers. "So we ended up renting a car with another couple and driving to Cherbourg."
Helen O'Dowd from Cork was in Madrid for a Bord Bia conference, representing her Virginia Harvest company with her sister, Ann Fogarty O'Dowd.
"We got an ordinary train to the French border and then the bus, so we were five hours on a train and 10 hours on a bus to Paris," said Helen.
Marie and Jeff Clayton from Camolin in Co Wexford were driven 600km from Madrid by one truck-driver and 600km by another driver, both of whom work for New Ross-based O'Leary Transport.
"A three-night break turned into a five-night break," said Marie.
On the other side of the Irish Sea, thousands of weary Irish holidaymakers and business travellers arrived at the Welsh ferry port of Fishguard yesterday pleading: "Just get us home."
From schoolchildren on a rugby trip to business executives, each had a tale of woe after being stranded by the ban on air travel.
Stena Line's 2.30pm sailing to Rosslare was seven times busier than normal yesterday.
The Stena Europe ship normally carries 30 foot-passengers -- but 221 travel-weary passengers boarded for yesterday's crossing.
Lawyer Seaneen Sullivan (28) spent last week in The Hague, Holland, and was due to fly to Dublin on Friday with Aer Lingus. "I've had seven flights cancelled and the travel agent couldn't re-book anymore, so I decided the boat was a better option," she said.
"I was meant to fly from Amsterdam Schiphol but I ended up getting a train from The Hague to Brussels.
"The trains were a mess in Europe and you couldn't book online, and then ticket offices were shutting early because of all the crowds.
"Fortunately I managed to get on a Eurostar to London because of a cancellation.
"I stayed in London on Sunday night and then got an early morning train from Paddington to Fishguard."
The young Dublin woman added: "I started travelling on Saturday midday. So far it's set me back €450."
Among those stranded in Britain were 29 schoolboys from the Christian Brothers College rugby team in Cork.
But the air chaos was welcomed by hotelier Denham Gregory, who runs The Ferry Hotel near Fishguard dock. "Every ash cloud has a silver lining," he said. "We've been fully booked since Thursday."