Travel Weekly's Ireland E-letter: Jan. 22, 2004

IN BUSINESS: Irish tourism minister John O'Donoghue announced the board overseeing the government's two-year Action Plan for Irish Tourism. John Travers, former chief executive of Forfas -- Ireland's national advisory board for enterprise, trade, science, technology and innovation -- will chair the implementation group. Other members include Philip Furlong, secretary general, Dept. of Arts, Sport and Tourism; Jim Murphy, president, Irish Hotels Federation; and Michael O'Donoghue, managing director, O'Donoghue/Ring Hotels. The group will work with the tourism industry; state agencies, such as Failte Ireland and Tourism Ireland; and various government departments to act upon the strategic recommendations set out in the report. For more on the appointments and Ireland's tourism action plan, visit www.arts-sport-tourism.gov.ie.

HOMES AWAY FROM HOME: CIE Tours International will let escorted tour participants settle in on their Irish vacations as of May 5 with the debut of its new eight-night Irish Gold tour. The tour, which starts and ends in Dublin, includes three-night stays at deluxe hotels, the Dunloe Castle in Killarney and the Radisson SAS in Galway. The itinerary also includes Cashel, Blarney, the Cliffs of Moher, Connemara and Clonmacnoise. "[It's] an appealing innovation for escorted tours," said CIE president Brian Stack. "Clients do not have to pack and unpack every day or two." The tour is priced from $1,784 per person, double, including air from New York (Kennedy), Boston or Baltimore, with weekly departures on Wednesdays, from May 5 through Oct. 27. Land-only rates start at $1,299. Rates cover accommodations in deluxe, superior and first-class hotels; eight full Irish breakfasts; seven dinners; a whiskey tasting/tour; a river ferry ride and fjord catamaran cruise; and attraction admissions.

SENIOR DISCOUNTS: In other news, CIE is offering senior citizen discounts of $110 per couple (or $55 per person) on 69 spring and summer departures of escorted vacations to Ireland and Britain. "Our 55 & Smiling discounts give agents a tool to make these destinations more affordable," said Stack. The $55 discounts are available on 10 departures of the Irish Tradition and Irish Classic tours; eight departures of the Irish Odyssey; seven departures of the Irish Explorer, British and Irish Grandeur, Irish and British Voyager, British Heritage and Dublin and British Discovery tours; and six departures of British Elegance. The mature traveler discount applies to select departures from March through October; discounts are limited to the first 15 seats requested for each date. To claim a discount for a client, book one of the specified departures, obtain proof of client's age (55 or over), and then deduct $55 per person from the final payment of the tour. Visit www.cietours.com, e-mail: [email protected] or call (800) CIE-TOUR for details on both promotions.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: This year marks the 150th anniversary of the establishment of the National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin. To celebrate, the gallery -- located at Merrion Square West -- plans a year-long program of exhibitions and events reflecting the growth of its collection from an initial 125 paintings to today's 13,000 works. The anniversary program includes exhibitions such as New Frontiers, a salute to the 10 countries joining the European Union this May. The show opens in March. And on view in the Millennium Wing will be an exhibition of 40 works by 18th century, Spanish still-life painter Luis Melendez, on loan this summer from the Prado Museum in Madrid. For more on anniversary events at the National Gallery, visit www.nationalgallery.ie.

CYBER-ABBEY: The Benedictine nuns of historic Kylemore Abbey, in the Connemara, County Galway, are back on line with an updated Web site now live at www.kylemoreabbey.com. The site features information on the history of the abbey, church, natural setting and Victorian walled garden; restoration efforts; the on-site school for girls; the visitors' center, with gift and craft shops, ticket sales and a tea room; and directions and opening times. The abbey, gift shop and tea room are open year-round from 9 a.m to 5:30 p.m., save Good Friday and the week of Christmas; the craft shop, which peddles the sisters' renowned pottery, is open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. from March to December, except Good Friday. Admission to the abbey and garden costs about $13 for adults and $8 for seniors and students; children under 12 are admitted free. For more on scenic Kylemore, popular with tour groups, visit www.kylemoreabbey.com.

HOT SPOT: In yet another demonstration of growing Irish solidarity and the success of the ongoing peace process in Ulster, Ireland's Evening Herald newspaper named Belfast, Northern Ireland, its top city break destination this month, a designation formerly won by the likes of hip Continental cities such as Copenhagen and Helsinki. A "delighted" Gerry Lennon, chief executive of the Belfast Visitor and Convention Bureau said his team had "worked hard to promote the city," which in 2002 welcomed more than 700,000 overnight visitors. In addition, new local hotel, the Holiday Inn, came in third in the paper's Best Hotel category. For more on travel to ever-more-popular Belfast, visit the BVCB's upgraded Web site at www.gotobelfast.com.

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