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Diary of a travel writer: Culinary stars whet appetite for Lismore

THURSDAY The sunny south-east is no less sunny at freezing point than it is in high summer. The approach to Waterford along the old N9, perennial champion in the award for the worst stretch of national road in Ireland, won't be missed when the new motorway opens sometime next week. Not by me anyway.

My stomach is as excited as I am, for I am en route to Lismore Castle, where Therese McDermott is launching Waterford's Good Food festival. Culinary stars are shining in the south-east, Shane McGrath's Cliff House, Ardmore, has got a Michelin star, and Paul Flynn's famous cooking school in The Tanyard features in the new Failte Ireland TV ad campaign. They also have Eunice Power of Powersfield House, Louise Clarke of Nude Food and Conor Foran of Lawlor's Hotel with the carving knives, so everyone agrees to write nice things about the festival, which takes place a fortnight after Easter, April 16-18.

They have recruited Edward Lynch, a local vet, who delivers the dramatics in the echoing chapel and the apple juice flows. Mary Houlihan is talking up her travel writing festival in June. Gary Breen talks about Waterford's big start to the summer -- the Waterford Glass centre opens on June 1, just as the first walking tours of the old Viking quarter kick off.

FRIDAY Sea bass for breakfast at Ballyrafter. Noreen Willoughby, the proprietor, has lots to say about local tourism, dependent as it is on the Blackwater where salmon stocks have been declining. She has a breath-takingly simple idea. Take February out of the season and extend it to October. It won't solve the problem of tourism on those teeming riverbanks. But it will help.

Mary McKenna of Tour America is hosting a table at the Burlington Hotel. Mary is recipient of a Deloitte & Touche Best Managed Business award. Her business is growing when everyone else is crying about the 'crisis'.

SATURDAY Funeral of Marcus De Burca, GAA historian, at Mount Jerome. He started the movement when sports history was being played at Junior B level. His most important book was not GAA -- A History, but his biography of Michael Cusack.

SUNDAY American tourists should come to Ireland in February. The countryside is beautiful in the frost as the morning light creeps forward ever earlier.

MONDAY Liam Lonergan of Club Travel tells me that he intends bringing the Budget Travel name back to the streets with a shop in Abbey Street. He also says he is broadening the choice of the old Budget product.

TUESDAY Failte Ireland has a seminar for 21 hoteliers at the Radisson St Helen's in Dublin. They want to know how hoteliers can match Michael O'Leary for media coverage. I tell them how easy it is: just watch Michael O'Leary and do what he does.

WEDNESDAY Bad news from Christoph Mueller. No sweetheart deals with cabin crew. We didn't expect any, but I have an Aer Lingus flight at 7.10 tomorrow and I want to be sure I will be flying. The ability to play on people's fears is why airlines are the way they are with industrial relations. It is also ESTA day in America. Unless you are registered online with Immigration stateside you won't be allowed on the plane. Travel is cheaper than it ever was. But it is also more complicated.