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Gadget fans in the North greet iPad launch

Gadget fans who queued all night outside Belfast's Apple store today became some of the first people in Ireland to buy an iPad.

With the latest must-have item not expected to go on sale in the Republic until July, would-be customers travelled north to join other devotees keen to be among the first to get their hands on the new touch-screen computer.

And one committed fan who queued overnight said Apple staff in the company's Belfast store did all they could to heighten the drama.

Lisa McCormick, 27, from Lisburn on the outskirts of Belfast, said: "A black curtain was put up in front of the store so we could not see in, but at around 7am we got free coffee sent round from Starbucks, before the curtain fell.

"Everyone cheered and we were all 'high-fived' as we walked in. It was great craic."

She queued overnight with a friend and left the store this morning, the proud owner of a new iPad.

"We were tenth in the queue, which was good. We had little folding chairs and wrapped up. It was good craic. The atmosphere was great," she said.

"I thought it would be good to be among the first to get an iPad.

"I haven't had a chance to have a proper look at it but I can't wait. It was all well worth it.

"I queued up for my iPhone when they came out and actually made some friends at the time who did the same. Some of them were even texting me today to see if I had got the iPad."

Fourteen-year-old Graham Brannelly and his brother Glen travelled from Dublin with their parents Bernard and Pauline to join the overnight queue.

Graham said he was keen to be the first among his friends to get an iPad: "I will be the first because it's not on sale in the south until July, so I'll be the first to have it."

His parents, who joined in the queue with their sons, said schoolwork had temporarily taken a backseat in the quest for the latest piece of Apple technology - though Pauline warned her sons that it was only a temporary reprieve from the text books.

Bernard told the BBC that the couple were happy to help their sons' shopping expedition.

"We had to stay up all of the night," he said, "but we're happy enough to do it."

Doors opened at the Belfast store, which is based in the Victoria Centre shopping complex, at 8am.

It was part of a co-ordinated sale that saw the new iPad extend its reach outside the US to go on sale in countries across Europe, as well as in Australia and Japan.

The computer allows users to send emails, read novels, view pictures and movies and play games.

It is on sale from £429 (€504) for the basic version to £699 (€821) for a model with wi-fi and 3G network access.

Apple stores across the UK opened an hour earlier at 8am to sell the iPad.

Currys and PC World will also stock the device at 139 stores.

Apple sold more than one million iPads in the US in the first 100 days after the April launch, making it a faster seller than the iPhone.

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