Despite the fact that it's not financially in our favor to do so -- at least in the EU countries -- Americans can't stop heading to Europe in record numbers. Ireland has certainly benefited greatly from joining the EU. Its booming economy, dubbed the Celtic Tiger, has fueled much development and growth in the country's businesses and infrastructure, creating a population uptick and reversing an emigration pattern. Natives have returned home, and immigrants from Eastern Europe, particularly Poland, are moving to the Emerald Isle for work, as the country's unemployment rate is estimated at a little above four percent.
In the fall, Ireland is less crowded, and the weather is crisp and beautiful -- don't believe what people tell you about it raining all the time here. You can drink and eat well; jokes about Irish cuisines simply don't hold up anymore. You can tromp around spooky Druid ruins -- they're all over the place and many don't require admission because they're not roped off in any way. Fall is also time for the Gaelic football and hurling finals, and the Ryder Cup. Several years ago on a trip here, I drank cider from the Liam McCarthy cup at a pub in County Tipperary, in honor of its all-Ireland senior hurling championship. Unbeknownst to us when we arrived, the team was in attendance, celebrating in grand style, passing the large vessel around.
Aer Lingus (tel. 800/474-7424; www.flyaerlingus.com) is running a fall fare sale from various places in the United States to both Dublin and Shannon airports, starting at $234 for New York to Shannon or Dublin; $266 Boston; $305 Chicago O'Hare; and Los Angeles from $377 -- all of these are one-way fares. What's cool about Aer Lingus site (British Airways does this too) is that you can see the price of your flight based on the day you're looking to travel, and sometimes get a better deal if you can fly on a cheap day. The rates quoted are good for travel starting September 1 through at least September 30; New York-JFK's sale is good through October 15. Fares don't include taxes and fees, however. You must act fast because some flights are already booked.
The fare sale will come in handy if you like to do things on your own steam. To that end, CIE Tours (tel. 800/243-8687; www.cietours.com) is offering an independent travel option called Go-As-You-Please Ireland, a self-drive trip with B&Bs or hotels, from $49 per day or $294 per week. You can start from either Shannon -- great if you want to drive to the majestic Cliffs of Moher or around the Ring of Kerry -- or Dublin, preferable if your travels take you to Newgrange, for example.
Ireland is known for its beer and whiskey among other things, and Dooley Vacations (tel. 877/331-9301; www.dooleyvacations.com) gives you the opportunity to celebrate that with its Sights and Sounds Pub Tour (www.dooleyvacations.com/dooleyescorted6day.htm). Starting from $699, including airfare from New York or Boston, the package puts you in first-class accommodations in Galway for two nights and Dublin for two, and takes you to the Old Jameson's Distillery. Transportation is provided in the form of a tour guide-cum-designated driver. Full Irish breakfast is included along with accommodations at first-class places. The trip is good for late fall-early spring travel, from November 2006 -- March 2007. Dooley is offering an incentive for group travel: with nine bookings, the tenth is free. The $699 price reflects November 28, 30; December 2, 2006; January 2007; and February 1, 2007 departures. After that, the departures start from $769 for February 17, 24, 27; and March 1, 3, 6 departures. Neither price points reflect departure taxes -- up to an additional $125. Land only prices are also available.
It is hard to get a sense of Ireland in just four days, so if you have more time, Brendan Worldwide Vacations (tel. 800/421-8446; www.brendanvacations.com) has a special for a nine-day escorted package that includes airfares, seven full Irish breakfasts, five dinners, and airport transfers in the comfort of a motor coach. "Glimpses of Ireland" is available in fall from New York or Boston from $1,028 (land only) and air-inclusive from $1,296 for November departures to $1,650 for some select September trips. You'll start in Dublin, visit the Book of Kells at Trinity College, tour the Midlands, Galway and just north, Connemara, where Ireland's heritage is most strongly preserved and you're more likely to hear Irish than English spoken. After that, the tour heads to the Shannon Area toward the Iveragh Peninsula, commonly referred to as the Ring of Kerry, onward to Blarney Castle (but don't kiss the stone -- local lore says that people urinate on it), and Waterford.
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