There's never been a better time to visit Ireland. The sun is excpected to shine all summer long and the deals are terrific!

That's the news from the Emerald Isle where the downturn (and the unexpected weather forecast) are making Ireland an attractive destination.

Both travel and services are suddenly much cheaper, and the current theme in Ireland’s tourism ads is “Ireland: More for Less.” 

Tourism companies are growing anxious, and this is good news for consumers.

As Martin Cullen, the Irish Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, put it recently: “2009 is going to be challenging. Having said that, there has never been better value available for overseas and domestic tourists.”  

The deals are cheap, and they’re cheaper if you book early, so what better time than now to take that trip across the water?  

First of all, getting there is not prohibitive. You can fly to Dublin with Aer Lingus, between May 1 and mid-June, for a mere $245 (that’s one way, before taxes). 

Discover Ireland offers a list of good deals.  For $496, you’ll have six nights bed & breakfast in local farmhouses, a car for seven days, and free calls to a tourism advisor, with MyGuideIreland; or you could stay at Manor West Hotel in Kerry for $73 per night; or you could play golf, get dinner, and board, at the Headfort Arms in Co. Meath, for $270 per person; or you could stay at Ballyseede Castle, for four nights (with a car during the day) for $489. 

Remember that July and August are more popular and therefore more expensive months.    

If you’re a long-term planner, Ireland’s bus company, CIE, is offering its own package of holiday treats. November may be a while away, and it’s a rather rainy time to see the homeland, but if you’re on a budget, it’s worth considering. Travellers who book by May 31 will get a week’s worth of good-value in late autumn – $699 includes flights, first class accommodation, bus tours of Dublin, and a rental car. 

Of course, top-end travel still remains pricey. Ashford Castle is where Ronald Reagan stayed when he visited Ireland in 1985. Built in the 13th century, the castle and its grounds are truly regal, and believe it or not, it too has some special offers.

The spa deal, for example, which runs through June, costs $1240 per room, for two days. Two nights B&B (plus one dinner) is $1050 per room, and the Castle sets the tone, saying “jacket and tie is the requested attire for gentlemen.”

If you visit Ireland now, you’ll find better value than there’s been for years. But unfortunately, if your tastes tend towards luxury, you’ll still have to pay for it. 

There are a couple of other real bargains that you can come across online. One of the best that Irish Central stumbled upon was a three-night in May during at the Lynch South Court Hotel in Limerick, which comes to $162, an average of $53.92 per night. (Not including taxes.)  

Not so long ago, a weekend stay in a hotel like this would have easily cost a couple of hundred dollars.

The price of a pint appears to have gone down too. Dublin pubs are still more expensive than the rest of the country - there, the average cost for a pint of beer is €4.85 ($6.49), compared to €4.31 ($5.77) outside the capital, and the average cost of alcohol in pubs in Dublin is almost 10 percent higher than the rest of the country. 

However, anecdotal evidence at least would suggest that the price of drinking in pubs outside of Dublin is going down, with various country pubs now competing to claim the title of serving Ireland's cheapest pint.