Emerald Isle Express: €5,000-a-head 'rail cruise' launches in Ireland
Luxury rail tours return
The Emerald Isle Express, a five-star private heritage train, has commenced a seven-day rail tour of Ireland.
It was a miserable Monday morning, but by the time Ireland's latest luxury train pulled into Connolly Station, the skies had broken blue.
Champagne corks popped on Platform 5. A fiddle and cello cranked out the Irish airs. Media mingled with passengers as the Emerald Isle Express arrived.
Think Hogwarts Express, with a touch of TLC from the Railway Preservation Society of Ireland, and five-star castle stays dotted along the way.
And the price?
50 guests from Canada, the US, France and the UK have paid Railtours Ireland First Class €5,000 a ticket for this unique, round-Ireland expedition.
The price includes all meals and drinks, a complimentary on-board bar (serving draft Guinness, among other tipples), as well as tours and transfers.
Overnights are at Dromoland Castle, Dublin's Merrion and Shelbourne hotels, Waterford Castle, The Killarney Park Hotel and Fota Island Resort.
"I'm just looking forward to relaxing," said Jim Brennan, who had travelled with his wife Rosemarie from Long Island, New York, for the journey.
"The perspective is very different," Mrs Brennan added. "I love trains. You can move around, as opposed to sitting still on coach tours."
Over the next eight days, the Emerald Isle Express will take its passengers on a classic tour of Waterford, Cork, Kerry, Clare and Connemara.
Stops and activities along the way range from the Cliffs of Moher to Cork's English Market, and the Ring of Kerry to a medieval banquet at Bunratty Castle.
This is the third year for Railtours Ireland's exclusive "rail cruise", which has found a lucrative niche in its small, overseas customer base - most of whom hail from North America and see the trip as a novel way to tour Ireland.
"They want to see as much of the country as possible without compromising on their standard of accommodation," explains Jim Deegan, Managing Director of Railtours Ireland First Class. "They want a trip that is car-free and care-free.”
The Emerald Isle Express is the second, ultra-luxury train to tour Ireland in recent weeks, with Belmond's Grand Hibernian recently having started its own two, four and six-night itineraries with prices from €3,160pp to €7,722pp.
Together, the trains mark a return to Ireland for extravagant rail tours, but there is a key difference between them - The Grand Hibernian is a sleeper train, with a much higher spec to its fixtures and fittings, while passengers on the Emerald Isle Explorer travel in vintage carriages but stay in five-star hotels or castles.
Seating cars on the Express date from the 1960s, while its engine is a 40-year-old diesel locomotive originally built by GM in Chicago, Railtours says.
"They sleep on the train," as Jim Deegan told his guests, referring to the "other" train now cruising Ireland's railways. "We sleep in castles."
A small cheer went up in Connolly Station.
All staff onboard the five-carriage Emerald Isle Express are Railway Preservation Society of Ireland volunteers; from the barman to the chef.
Their fees, including those paid by Railtours Ireland First Class, go towards keeping Ireland’s railway heritage operating for future generations.
No doubt, there will also be a few tips.