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It's Ireland of the bargains


Ashford Castle sits in a spectacular setting

Ashford Castle sits in a spectacular setting

Ashford Castle sits in a spectacular setting

Ireland may be the laughing stock of the world right now, but being a basket case does have its perks. The 'New York Times' ran an article this week on why Europe's most botched-up economies are a great choice for holidays this year.

No prizes for guessing which banana republic came top of the pile, but this particular cloud had a silver lining at least as far as our beleaguered tourist industry is concerned.

Don't be surprised if you get a call one of these nights from your long-lost Stateside cousins saying they're coming en masse this summer. Given the eye-watering value a holiday in Ireland represents across the Atlantic right now, you could hardly blame them.

Five-star castles, plush country homes, airlines and car-hire companies have slashed their rates for American tourists, and with the dollar strengthening against the euro, suddenly that dream trip looks remarkably affordable.

Take this package on offer from New York agent Sceptre Tours. For just $899 (€660) per person, you can pick up a six-night stay in a five-star villa at Adare Manor (pictured right) in Limerick, return fares from New York to Shannon and a week's car rental.

The cost, which is based on four people holidaying together between June 16 and August 31, is less than it would be to buy the airfare alone. The normal cost of just one night in these slick, three-bedroom villas is €600 a night during peak season, so this really is a blinder of a deal.

Another six-night package for $699 (€513) includes one night at the five-star Ashford Castle in Mayo, two in a Dublin four-star, flights and car hire.

For those who want to see the sights, CIE Tours International have a six-day Taste of Ireland stay for $658 (€483), which includes admission to sites such as Blarney Castle and the Cliffs of Moher, as well as a Bunratty medieval banquet and a tour of Dublin with a local guide.

Hiring a car here has also hit rock bottom, with some companies, such as Auto Europe, offering daily rates of $7.50 (€5.50) a day.

From May, a new direct flight with US Airways from North Carolina will link Charlotte, the banking centre of the deep south, to Dublin, opening up Ireland to a whole new cohort of American travellers who have never been here before.

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A decade ago, seven out of 10 US tourists who came to Ireland on holiday did so to explore their roots. But we can no longer rely on the 40 million Americans who claim Irish heritage to visit, many of whom have either ticked Ireland off their must-see list already or whose connections with the old sod are too distant.

Today, only 30pc who come claim to have a family link but the US still accounts for 12pc of our visitors, and when they come, they spend, representing 20pc of all tourism revenue. So dust down the leprechauns, soak up the shamrock and keep your fingers crossed that they might decide to spend their dollars here this summer.

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