ROMANCE is on the rise between Irish people and foreign nationals. Every weekend, more and more Irish males seem to have a European stunner -- one of the 120,000 non-Irish living here -- on their arm.
But would they be better off with fair-skinned, red-haired cailini from County Clare? And what does this new competition mean for us native females?
Sam and Katherina met in France while on the Erasmus gap-year programme, and have been dating for the last five years. Sam is from Ireland and Katherina is from Austria.
Sam says: "Of course, it's a major hassle coming from different countries. Language differences, cultural differences, geographic distances, they are all there.
"It has always been and it will continue to be a 'hassle', in that it is not easy, which means that it has to be a great relationship to make it work, otherwise it's not worth it."
He adds: "At the start of the relationship, travelling in itself was exciting, but I think Katherina will agree that with flying through Stansted Airport, taking four flights, spanning 12 hours each way, the novelty wore off quite quickly. It's all about the person you're flying to see. You have to be a strong couple."
Katherina says: "It might be more difficult to be in a relationship with someone from a different country but who says that being with a person from the same country makes the relationship last?"
Sam adds: "The idea of where to live is still an issue for Katherina and me. We both regard ourselves now as part-Irish and part-Austrian, but we still don't know in the long-term where we'll set up.
"It would be simpler to pick an Irish girl, of course, but it's not just about how easy the relationship would be. It's also about what going out with Katherina has allowed me to experience. From that point of view, what Austria has given me has been amazing."
Sam explains: "Going out with an Irish girl can get a bit boring. By dating Katherina, it is great to have a separate place where you can go and be accepted. It's like a special offer, buy Katherina, and get Austria extra free!
"I think I'd have been drawn to Katherina if she was Irish too. But her being Austrian adds a little spice to things. Basically you either regard a foreign relationship as hard work, or as exciting and worthwhile.
"I've always liked explaining Ireland to Katherina and her family. It makes you appreciate where you come from."
He adds that there are fewer differences between Austrians and Irish people than you would think.
"Katherina and her friend lived in Ireland for a few years and have adopted much of our Irishness. She's been to Croke Park. She's seen almost all of Ireland. She loves the relaxed and friendly nature of the people.
"She admires Roddy Doyle and Tommy Tiernan, enjoys putting on an Irish accent. I don't think it matters that she's Austrian. She's very Irish too. The really difficult part of our relationship was the long periods spent apart. Maintaining a relationship over the phone was really difficult," Sam says.
Another Irishman, Eli Kelly from Dublin, is dating Kamila Banach from Poland and they met while working at Dublin airport. Kamila, who lives in Santry, came to Ireland a year and a half ago.
Eli says: "Polish girls are more understanding and more supportive of things within a relationship. I also find they are less materialistic.
"They know how to take care of themselves when it comes to health and fitness and they really know how to love a man the right way.
"Also Kamila has loved me in a way that I have never known before and I've been in many relationships," Eli says.
The hardest part for Eli is not being able to speak the language. However, he would definitely be of the opinion that foreign women are more appealing to the average Irishman.
"God, yes! It is the different, exotic attraction that lures an Irishman to an outsider at first. Then there comes more. The fiery attitude of a foreign woman really gets me going. They have a lot to offer. Irish people have become greedy, self-centred and materialistic. Polish people are a lot more content with far, far less than the average Irish person.
"They understand the importance of non-materialistic things more than the Irish do," Eli says.
Another couple who found love across the cultural divide are Simon and Anna who met while working in the Conrad Hotel in Dublin in 2004. Simon is Irish and Anna is German. A big plus for Simon in the relationship is getting to visit Germany regularly to see Anna's family.
Says Simon: "It's great to have the option to stay with Anna's parents in Berlin. It's a fantastic city and I like it more every time I go.
"Ever since I was young, I've always got along better with non-Irish ladies. I find that Irish girls have more of a guard up and there are more barriers that need to be manoeuvred to get talking to them and to ultimately get to know them."
He adds: "I found that a lot of Irish girls tended to look down on guys from their 'high horse"'and had a bit of a chip on their shoulders for no apparent reason.
"There always seems to be more of a hidden agenda with Irish girls as opposed to foreign girls. Whenever I encountered girls from elsewhere, I found them a breath of fresh air," says Simon.
"I felt as if I was on more of a level playing field as opposed to being grounded at the bottom of a see-saw! I find foreign girls more expansive and open-minded whereas I think Irish women tend to be one-dimensional. It's easier to make a connection with foreign girls. I know this is an extreme point. I have had previous relationships with Irish girls that never seemed to work out. Looking back, I feel my heart was never in it, " he explains.
"The whole process of Anna experiencing the Irish culture and me experiencing the German culture has provided a fantastic platform for our relationship. I suppose it's different strokes for different folks."
But the million-dollar question is whether Irish men find women from outside Ireland more exotic and attractive?
Simon says: "I think guys do find girls from elsewhere more 'exotic'. The grass is always greener, as they say, but I think it's a case of what you're exposed to.
"It's becoming less of a factor in this day and age as the number of foreigners walking the streets is increasing by the day, so the novelty factor is probably decreasing.
"I reckon it's the same case for women. It's natural to be more attracted to a kind of person that you've had less exposure to."
Then on the other side of the coin, there the Irish men who prefer their women 100 per cent home-grown.
Twenty-five-year-old Paul says: "I completely understand why Irish men are against the idea of dating foreign ladies with a view to marrying them.
"Truthfully, if I was to start going out with a foreign bird, say an Eastern European, at the start I would be a bit sceptical about whether or not she was going out with me because she liked me, or she liked the fact that I come from potentially a better financial background."
He adds: "The culture factor is important too in this equation. Irish people are generally fun-loving people who like to party and have a laugh. So a girl from outside Ireland might not like your antics -- like going on the rampage after a Dublin game in Croke Park. You have a clash of culture.
"With Irish girls, you already have one major common attribute, the fact that we are Irish. Irish girls understand the importance of Croke Park on a Sunday to us fellows and the drinking culture which then continues into the night after a game," Paul says.
Another 25-year-old Irish man shares his views on his preference for Irish women.
Ian says: "I'd be the first person to fall in love with a foreign girl in the morning. I just reckon when it comes to spending your life with someone, it makes more sense to do that with someone with whom you share more common ground.
"Someone who has grown up in the same culture as you is obviously more suited. I feel I would have a million and one things in common with an Irish girl in comparison to a foreign chick," explains Ian.
So, all you Irish women out there, you can relax now -- we have been assured that there are still some Irish men who are happy to stick by local girls . . . just as long as we don't take on any of those foreign ways.