THE tourist industry got an unexpected boost even before the visits of Queen Elizabeth and US President Barack Obama, with a 9pc surge in visitors in the first three months of the year.
It was the first time in two and a half years that there has been an increase in the number of tourists coming here.
But Irish holidaymakers appear to be feeling the pinch with a sharp fall of nearly 12pc in the number of foreign jaunts taken, new figures from the Central Statistics Office show.
An extra 92,800 tourists visited Ireland between January and March, bringing the total to more than 1.5 million.
And there was a particularly strong 11.9pc jump in visitors from North America, along with a 7pc increase from Britain, our most important tourist market.
By contrast, people living here took 1.27 million overseas trips in the same period, down more than 11pc compared to this time last year as budget cuts and tax hikes bite.
Tourism authorities were overjoyed at the visitor figures, which come after nearly three years of sharp decline and were well ahead of expectations.
"After a number of difficult years for tourism, I believe the industry is now poised for a return to growth," said Tourism Ireland chief executive Niall Gibbons.
This month has been seen as excellent for tourism. Between the government stimulus package and the historic visits of the queen and Mr Obama, Ireland has been given a unique marketing advantage, he said.
Failte Ireland chief executive Shaun Quinn said the figures would give the industry a great boost heading into the high season, and following hot on the heels of the two high-profile visits, which are expected to reap millions for the economy.
Mr Obama's ancestral village of Moneygall, Co Offaly, has been enjoying a flood of overseas visitors since his visit on Monday.
A guest book shows visitors from every corner of the world have been in Ollie Hayes's pub where First Lady Michelle Obama pulled a pint of Guinness on Monday.
Henry Healy, who lives on the village's Main Street, is stopped by tourists to pose for photographs every time he leaves his house.
Patrick and Daria McQualle, from Brooklyn, New York, gasped in surprise yesterday as they arrived in Moneygall.
"Is that Henry Healy?" asked Daria as she noticed Mr Obama's famed distant cousin on the street.
"Could we have a picture?" she enquired.
A new souvenir tourist guide has been published by Shannon Development to inform visitors about Moneygall and the surrounding areas. It includes Mr Obama's family tree and provides visitors with a compact guide to help them trace his Irish heritage.
Chief executive of Shannon Development Dr Vincent Cunnane said that Ireland will gain hugely from the attention of top international TV stations filing positive stories from the area.