Package tours for Ireland Gathering

There are plenty of events taking place in Dublin during Ireland's Gathering. TOURISM IRELAND PHOTO

There are plenty of events taking place in Dublin during Ireland's Gathering. TOURISM IRELAND PHOTO

ILONA KAUREMSZKY, Special to QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:41 PM ET

Q: Can you tell me about this year's Gathering in Ireland? Are there any package tours?

-- A. Macpherson, Toronto

A: Jayne Shackleford, Tourism Ireland's marketing manager in Canada, says the Gathering started as an initiative to welcome people of Irish ancestry back home but quickly expanded to include the world. "We want everyone to share in the events planned," she says, some of which can be described as "quirky."

These include a celebration of redheads (Aug. 23), a Twin Fest (Aug. 24) and a Left Hand Festival (Aug. 9-13). This takes place at Belvedere House Gardens and Park in Mullingar (a Gaelic name that means "the town of the left hand mill.")

Major tour operators including Air Canada Vacations, Transat Holidays, Trafalgar Tours, Royal Irish Tours and Insight Vacations have package tours for Ireland.

For example, Insight Vacations has six Irish Tours connected to the Gathering. Their nine-day Irish Elegance itinerary explores the vibrant city of Dublin, the legendary counties and the Ring of Kerry before winding up at Ashford Castle. See insightvacations.com.

Royal Irish Tours president Ian Duffy says his company has also designed several tours for The Gathering.

"They offer great value and quality for anyone wishing to tour Ireland in 2013. We also offer many other coach tours and driving holiday options," he says.

See royalirishtours.com or call 905-773-6773.

In addition to package tours, more than 2,000 "Gatherings" are listed on the Tourism Ireland web site -- thegatheringireland.com. Register online for ones that pique your interest and you'll get regular updates by e-mail. Or you can call 1-800-SHAMROCK and speak directly to a tourism representative in Ireland.

Q: Watching English garden shows is a long-time passion. Now I think I'm prepared for a visit, and hoping you might have some tips. Thank you.

-- T. Smith, Markham

A: All over the United Kingdom gardeners will be embracing the arrival of spring by attending a garden show. One of the biggest is the Chelsea Flower Show in London, which marks its 100th anniversary May 21-25. For details, see rhs.org.uk.

Another nice way to immerse yourself in the world of flowers is a garden-themed cruise. Cruise Holidays of Lawrence Park is organizing an 11-day British Isles cruise, May 14-25, that stops at some of the U.K.'s finest gardens -- Sissinghurst Castle in Kent, the Lost Gardens of Heligan and the Eden Project in Cornwall, La Seigneurie Gardens on the Isle of Sark, Powerscourt House and Helen Dillion Garden in Ireland, Balfour Castle in the Orkneys, and more. Cruise host Peter Neubauer is a passionate gardener and member of the Royal Horticulture Society. Contact Cruise Holidays of Lawrence Park at 416-486-4646 or lawrencepark.cruiseholidays.com.


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