Tourist numbers to Ireland continue to grow steadily, with the highest volume of visitors since 2009 recorded in the first six months of 2013.

According to the latest Central Statistics Office figures, more than 1.7 million overseas visitors came to Ireland from March to May this year, which represents an 8.1 percent increase on the same period last year.

During the three month period, trips by North American tourists increased by almost 13 percent at 282,300.

Minister for Tourism Leo Varadkar told the Irish Times the increase was a direct result of the Gathering initiative.

“As the year progresses, each set of statistics shows that the Gathering is making a difference. Numbers from North America are as good as we’ve ever seen them, while France is leading the charge from Europe,” said Mr Varadkar.

Commenting on the figures, Tourism Ireland chief executive Niall Gibbons said the overall boost in numbers was an encouraging sign for Irish tourism.

“The Gathering Ireland has certainly played a major role in helping boost visitor numbers in the first five months of the year,” said Mr Gibbons. “We believe that - working closely with our industry partners in 2013 - we can deliver a 5 per cent increase in visitor numbers,” he added.

The Gathering hopes to attract an additional 325,000 visitors and nearly $2 million in revenue.