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Lose those winter blues with shamrock green

Bunratty Castle, County Clare, has its medieval side. Bunratty Castle, County Clare, has its medieval side. (PHOTO/TOURISM IRELAND VIA AP)

It's a great day for the shamrock

For the flags in full array

We're feeling so inspirish

Sure because for all the Irish

It's a great, great day!

by Roger Edens

Whether you have Irish ancestry or not, every day is almost guaranteed to be a great day when you visit the Emerald Isle. The scenery, the song, the friendliness, and now even the food make Ireland a destination worth visiting or returning to. As St. Patrick's Day approaches, here is a glance at some Irish offerings:

Aer Lingus is having its annual fare sale, with Web-only prices from Boston to Dublin or Shannon beginning at $358 round trip April 1-30. As the airline notes, however, "Seats are limited and fares may not be available on all flights and dates."

Visit aerlingus.com.

A new, twice-weekly Boston-Knock flight from the Scottish airline Flyglobespan takes off in May, starting at $478 round trip. This will be the first trans-Atlantic service from Knock International Airport, County Mayo .

Visit flyglobespan.com.

Not everyone thinks of Ireland as a place to see by train, but Rail Europe promises you can easily get from city to city on the rails. An Ireland Pass, good for five days of unlimited travel to be taken within 30 days, costs $186. Those days need not be used consecutively.

Call 877-257-2887 or visit raileurope.com .

If, however, you prefer to drive along the winding roads of Ireland (and don't mind paying considerably more for gas than you would here) Massachusetts-based Brian Moore International Tours has a package that begins at $679 and includes air fare, an economy car with manual transmission, and five nights of vouchers for bed-and-breakfast inns.

Call 800-982-2299 or visit bmit.com for a look at many other offers as well.

Escorted tours remain popular. CIE Tours International has several, including the 2007 Taste of Ireland, which begins at $985 and includes air fare, five nights' hotel, seven meals plus tea and scones at a farmhouse, and these must-see attractions for the first-time visitor: a dinner show at Doyle's Irish Cabaret, a Bunratty Castle medieval banquet, Dublin's Georgian doors, the Blarney Stone, the Ring of Kerry, the multimedia Dublin Experience show at Trinity College, and the Cliffs of Moher .

On the other hand, return visitors might want to spend more time by themselves in the bustling capital . Dublin at Leisure, starting at $292 land-only, features airport transfers, two nights' hotel, a full Irish breakfast, a city tour in an open-deck bus, and a visit to the Dublin Experience.

Call 800-243-8687 or visit cietours.com .

Patricia Tunison Preston bills herself as an Ireland expert, and with justification, having written a dozen travel books about the country and visited it many times. Three group trips are planned this year: Ireland in the Spring, April 15-22; Msgr. Charlie Cohen Tour, July 15-24; and West of Ireland Coastal Tour, Oct. 21-27. Prices with air fare from New York range from $1,559-$2,499, depending upon the trip. One feature of Preston's website, which is worth visiting for Ireland information alone, is a "nightly news" blog, complete with photos, for friends and families of the tour participants.

Visit irelandexpert.com or call 845-758-1232 .

If you can't come to Ireland, let Ireland come to you. Tomorrow marks the start of Irish Food & Culture Week in Massachusetts, during which six of Ireland's top chefs will showcase what is being called New Irish Cuisine. They will pair with leading Boston chefs throughout the week at places such as the Omni Parker House, Jurys Boston Hotel, the Seaport, Eastern Standard restaurant, and the Black Rose pub . The Second Annual Gaelic Gourmet Gala, featuring all 12 Irish and American chefs, takes place Friday at Hotel Commonwealth. Tickets are $100 per person, including food, wine, and valet parking. A $399 Gala Package includes overnight accommodations, tickets to the gala, and an Irish breakfast , all for two. Reservations for either must be made by tomorrow, however, by calling 617-532-5063 or going to hotelcommonwealth.com/gaelicgourmetgala.html .

For more details about the culinary events and other Irish happenings in Massachusetts, visit Irishmassachusetts.com. Also, at BostonUSA.com, put "Irish" in the website's search box and you will come up with a plethora of items.

Providence package
Hotel Dolce Villa, a boutique Italian-style villa in Providence, has a Historic Federal Hill package highlighted by overnight accommodations for two, breakfast at Caffe Dolce Vita , lunch at Geppetto's Pizzeria , and dinner for two at the Mediterraneo Caffe restaurant. The package costs $299 through May 1, and $399 from May 1-Nov. 1.

Call 401-383-7031 or visit dolcevillari.com.

For other Providence packages and tourism information, go to providencenightandday.com or call 800-233-1636.

Here's mud in your eye
April and May is mud season, and many lodging places are making the most of it with Mud Season Packages, offered at NewEnglandInnsandResorts.com . One example: The Inn by the Sea in Cape Elizabeth, Maine's In the Mood for Mud offering, which includes a choice of cocktails with strawberries dipped in Maine Mud chocolate sauce, boots from L.L. Bean for trekking through the mud, choice of in-room mud mask full body treatment or in-room mud foot soak, dinner for two including Mud Boots at Low Tide Clam Cakes and Maine MudSlide Cheesecake, and evening turndown with Maine Mud Mint sauce and warm chocolate cookies for dipping. The price for two is $679, and the package is available through May 18.

To contact the inn directly, call 207-799-3134 or visit its website, innbythesea.com.

When not included, hotel taxes, airport fees, and port charges can add significantly to the price of a trip. Most prices quoted are for double occupancy, and subject to availability and blackout dates. Richard P. Carpenter can be reached at carpenter@globe.com.

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