Travel Weekly's Ireland E-letter: Dec. 18, 2003

GO WEST ... AND NORTH: CIE Tours Int'l crafted a six-night Irish Quest escorted tour to less-visited northern and western Ireland, taking in counties Antrim, Derry, Donegal, Tyrone and Cavan in Northern Ireland and the Republic. Departures will take place weekly from March 18 to Nov. 18, priced from $1,088 with airfare from Baltimore, Boston or New York [Kennedy], or from $775 for land only. Highlights of the tour include a walking tour of Londonderry's walls, a tour and tasting at Old Bushmills Distillery, and stops at Belleek Pottery, the Giants Causeway, the Ulster American Folk Park, Kylemore Abbey and Knock Shrine. Rates include first-class hotel accommodations, including a night at Cabra Castle, Kingscourt; breakfast daily; six dinners, including a Bunratty "ceili"; and escorted sightseeing. Call (800) CIE-TOUR or visit www.cietours.com.

FAM-TASTIC IN ULSTER: Isle Inn Tours also is hopping on the Northern Ireland bandwagon, with a spring agent fam trip combining Northern Ireland with the better-known South. The trip to Galway, Westport, Londonderry, Belfast and Dublin combines hotel inspections with sightseeing at the Cliffs of Moher, the Burren, the Connemara peninsula, the Giants Causeway and the Antrim Coast. The fam runs March 27 to April 3, departing Baltimore and New York [Kennedy] on Aer Lingus; the cost to IATAN and CLIA agents is $599 plus $75 tax, with companion and single supplements of $125 and $189, respectively. Payment must be made by agency or personal check. Accommodations include the Galway Radisson, Hotel Westport, Tower Hotel Derry, McCausland Hotel Belfast and Berkeley Court Dublin; rates include airfare, six nights' hotel; five dinners; an evening of Irish entertainment; sightseeing and site inspections. For more, contact Fiona Lydon at (800) 237-9376, ext. 18, [email protected], or visit www.isleinntours.com.

SLIGO DIGS: The Sligo Park Hotel in Sligo, a Lee Hotels property, continues the ongoing expansion effort that's already resulted in a 450-person conference and banqueting facility. In addition to that new Sligo Park Suite, the 140-room hotel is continuing the renovation of 60 original guest rooms, the construction of 30 more units, and the upgrade of its leisure and fitness facilities. All work is scheduled for completion in spring. Lee Hotels--which also owns the Mespil Hotel in Dublin and the Kenmare Bay Hotel in Kenmare, Co. Kerry--pays agents 8% commission. Visit www.leehotels.com.

FIT FOR A KING: Sceptre Ireland's six-night Mysteries and Castles package--priced at $545, net, land only, per person, for travel in January and February--offers storybook castle stays in Ireland. The deal includes roundtrip airfare, castle accommodations [two nights at Abbeyglen Castle, Co. Galway; two nights, Cabra Castle, Co. Cavan; and two nights, Clontarf Castle, Co. Dublin]; weekly car rental or chauffeur; admission to Kylemore Abbey; the assistance of a local representative and full Irish breakfast daily. To book, contact Sceptre at (800) 221-0924 or visit www.sceptreagent.com.

LAST GASP: In other news, Sceptre also has one remaining Murder Mystery Tour weekend-- "The Westport Will," scheduled for Jan. 29--available. Priced from $346 [land-only, net], the four-night vacation includes two nights' accommodation each in Dublin and Co. Mayo, where the two-day murder mystery unfolds; breakfast daily; private coach with driver/guide; and portage of one suitcase.

MORE EUROS=LESS LONDON: Low-fare Irish carrier Ryanair said it would halve daily services from Shannon to London, England, following a reported 45% jump in passenger service charges that Ireland's Aer Rianta airports authority has set for Jan 1. Citing what it called "monopoly abuse" by Aer Rianta--which runs the Dublin, Shannon and Cork airports--Ryanair said it will operate two flights per day to London's Stansted Airport, down from the current four, as of Jan. 8. A Ryanair spokesman also called for the Irish government to speed the breakup of Aer Rianta into three airport authorities, a move scheduled for completion by August. For its part, Aer Rianta believes the increases are "reasonable and necessary," given rising operational and security costs, and new capital improvement projects, according to Shannon Airport director Martin Moroney. For more information, visit www.ryanair.com and www.aer-rianta.ie.

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