Travel Weekly's Ireland E-letter: July 1, 2004

CAPITAL IDEA: Ireland's prime minister -- or, in Irish, Taoiseach -- Bertie Ahern marked the end of the country's presidency of the European Union on June 30 by officially launching the six-month countdown to Cork's year-long reign as E.U. Cultural Capital in 2005. Program planners at organizing committee Cork 2005 are finalizing a list of more than 5,000 planned events, including the 40 already made public, such as a rowing boat race through Cork; a project to knit a giant satellite map of the city; and the Relocation outdoor theater series. For event details or to sign up for the Cork 2005 monthly "e-zine," go to www.cork2005.ie.

ALL IN THE FAMILY: SMI Tours puts the "fam" in family with two agent familiarization trips to Ireland that are open to relatives and friends, and priced from $289, land only. SMIT offers a four-night East package, priced at $289 per agent and departing Jan. 5 and Feb. 2 for two nights each in Dublin and Waterford, and a five-night West plan at $359 that departs Dec. 8 and Jan. 19 for one night in Shannon and then two nights each in Galway and Killarney. Friends and family pay $100 extra per person; round trip air is available at extra cost on Aer Lingus and Continental. For more, call (800) 499-1899 or click on "Agent Fams" at www.smireland.com.

FAM-TASTIC: Celtic Tours also will host two fam trips this fall, priced at $499 from New York or Boston and $559 from Chicago. The Nov. 17 departure features one-night stays in Limerick, Galway, Cabra Castle and Dublin, while the Dec. 8 tour spends one night in Limerick, two in Killarney and one in Dublin. Both fams include breakfast and dinner daily, motorcoach sightseeing with professional driver/guide, an educational seminar, cocktail hour and select hotel inspections. Celtic also offers a free Ireland fam trip to agents who book new groups of 25 or more on scheduled motorcoach tours. Call (800) 833-4373.

BREAKS ON BREAKS: Posh Dublin hotel The Merrion is introducing price breaks on luxury breaks beginning this summer, with savings of up to $125 per person on two-night stays through March 31 next year. Savings include about $250 off the total Merrion Champagne Weekend, now priced at around $633 per stay, double, for two nights (Fridays through Sundays) in a superior queen room in the Garden Wing, full Irish breakfast each morning and champagne on arrival. Also on sale: The two-night Merrion Getaway, at $755 per couple -- a $195 savings -- and the Tethra Spa Enchantment deal, now at $846, or $103 off. One night luxury breaks are also available. Contact the Merrion -- which normally pays 10% commission -- at (011) 353-1-603-0600, via e-mail at [email protected] or at www.merrionhotel.com, or The Leading Hotels of the World at (800) 223-6800 or at www.lhw.com.

FUN FUNDS: The Irish government puts its money where its mouth is when promoting increasingly popular wellness tourism. Look for new spa facilities at two Irish hotels thanks to some $725,000 in support announced by tourism minister John O'Donoghue under Failte Ireland's Tourism Product Development Scheme. Day's Hotel Health Centre in Inishbofin, County Galway, was granted funds to develop a health center, while Westport Woods Health Spa in Westport, County Mayo got aid to build a health spa suite at the Westport Woods Hotel. For more on Dublin's tourism development efforts, visit www.arts-sport-tourism.gov.ie.

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