And they're off! Shoppers brave the rain for St Stephen's Day sales
Retailers enjoy busiest festive season for seven years as €5m spent every hour
The queues started to snake around shops early this morning as retailers pinned their hopes on a spending sales splurge to boost end-of-year figures.
From ladies' fashion and jewellery to electronics, bargain hunters will be out in force today with slashed prices and once-off deals.
The highly anticipated sale at Arnotts, Dublin, the country's oldest and largest department store, will see up to 50pc reductions on leading brands.
Close to two dozen shoppers queued outside the department store in the early hours of this morning before making the dash inside when the store opened its doors a 9am.
Shoppers have splurged a staggering €129m every day this month - or €5m every hour - as retailers enjoy the busiest festive period for seven years.
But experts warn Ireland's "two-tier" economic recovery was reflected in spending patterns across the country.
In the capital, most sectors traded exceptionally well and both daytime and evening shopping in the capital proved robust.
And while the general outlook was positive, experts warned parts of provincial Ireland were left lagging behind. Many small-town retailers reported weak footfall, as they failed to reap the benefits of the seasonal surge in spending.
Overall, Retail Excellence Ireland (REI) predicts that Christmas trade could be up 5pc compared with last year, with families spending almost €550m on food alone - over €34m more than last year.
Sources say this significant growth marks a major turnaround in business, as consumers loosen the purse strings and confidence returns to the economy.
But overall spending is still behind the high point of the Celtic Tiger - and all sectors report that value for money remains a key concern of customers.
The country's major cities, particularly Dublin, Cork and Galway, enjoyed the biggest boost in consumer spending.
Furniture, home accessories outlets, computers and electronics providers continue to dominate the retail recovery.
REI pointed out that the inclement weather of recent weeks had added to the woes of many shop owners.
But despite this drop in footfall, there were other factors that boosted trade.
"The value of the average transaction has increased across all sectors, and that's where the uplift is coming from," said Lynn Drumgoole, REI's head of public affairs.
"And the fact that so many people travelled home this Christmas from overseas has certainly contributed to a general rise in consumer spend," she told the Irish Independent.
"In previous years, people would have wanted to have everything before Christmas, but now a significant number are willing to postpone their purchasing until the sales."
She said there should be "exceptional discounts" available after the festive season.
She added 2015 was a "milestone year" for retailers because of the sheer numbers shopping online.
Armchair shoppers who couldn't wait until the traditional St Stephen's Day sales were already parting ways with their cash yesterday, she added.
Growth is being driven by a rise in the popularity of tablet computers, which make shopping from the sofa an attractive pastime for many.
"If Christmas Day shopping online is going to take off, it will happen this year, because it has been a very strong market since the end of November."
REI, which is part of the employers' group Ibec, is forecasting retail sales of €4.05bn for Christmas 2015.