Wicklow town's Linda Saunders was able to experience the first departure from Dublin Connolly of a sparkling new 5 star tourism venture.
The 'Emerald Isle Express' offers an eight-day rail-cruise of Ireland's highlights, run by the unique team of Railtours Ireland. It will serve guests from around the world who are used to other luxurious trains like the 'Rocky Mountaineer' of Canada; the 'Blue Train' of South Africa, or Europe's famous 'Orient Express.'
The new tour is a round trip of Ireland by vintage train with side trips by luxury coach to other locations such as the Cliffs of Moher and Connemara.
At 10.30am promptly the Emerald Isle Express rolled into Connolly, DART Platform 5, for a red carpet reception complete with potted plants and champagne toasts.
'Not the usual commuter run on DART then,' commented Linda.
Jim Deegan welcomed all present and complimented Irish Rail for their support in bringing this exciting new tourism venture to fruition. Fifty inaugural trip passengers from the US, then boarded, their luggage having been carefully stowed in advance.
Linda was highly impressed with the train's luxurious interior.
'The heritage train was hired from the Railway Preservation Society of Ireland who lovingly restored every vintage detail. Inside, it is furnished with gleaming brass, bright upholstery, crisp linen and fresh flowers. The exterior of the train was freshly repainted for the trip in bright sapphire blue and gold in Irish Rail's workshops. Uniformed staff on-board were led by Head Steward, Jim McNulty, and Senior Steward, Stephen Commiskey. Stephen had even twirled and waxed his moustaches especially for the occasion, lending a real Agatha Christie 1930s feel.'
Half an hour later the Emerald Isle Express departed Connolly and rolled down the East coast on a sparkling sunny day which made the views of Killiney Bay and Bray Head look picture perfect. Irish Rail's CEO, David Franks, made a special appearance to see the train off, accompanied by Senior Managers Cormac Downes, Brendan Johnson and Jim Meade.
'By luck, I was invited to stay aboard for part of my way home to Wicklow, so I chatted with visitors from the States while I enjoyed the unaccustomed charm of champagne on Irish Rail. Carol and Don, from Houston in Texas, were very excited to be on their first visit to Ireland. Their ancestors, the O'Deas, had left for America from Northern Ireland, early in the 18th century.'
Linda's mingling with fellow passengers didn't stop there.
'In the galley, I met Angela McCracken, who had cooked a homemade Tomato and Basil soup and baked hot brown soda bread for the tourists' light lunch on board. As the vintage train travelled, Jim Deegan regaled the passengers (still sipping champagne) with railway tales. These included the astonishing Victorian 'vacuum train' which once ran from Dun Laoghaire.
This journey was the pilot tour to prove the concept's popularity and the practical logistics of dovetailing a train tour into other busy railway schedules. Linda was suitably impressed.
It is hoped that the Emerald Isle Express will help Ireland join a select list of very special places with high end tourism experiences, the sort that feature on 'Top Ten' lists of the World.'
The Railtours 2015 programme will include at least one Emerald Isle Express tour, and hopefully two. The new tour was also promoted in the US at the popular 'Jump into Ireland' workshops where Tourism Ireland managers said they were delighted to have such an impressive new product to display.