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Texan backpackers turned away by Irish immigration

Tourism board upset that "Ireland of the Welcomes" seems less than welcoming.

A Belgian tourist sits on top of a pile of backpacks in Prague July 29, 2002. (Petr David Josek/Reuters)

DUBLIN — Tourism Ireland's slogan, “Go where Ireland takes you,” encourages overseas visitors to explore the country.

But for three young Texans beginning a backpacking holiday, the place where Ireland took them on arrival at the Dublin airport Friday, July 3, was the departure lounge and an expensive return flight to the United States.

They were barred from entering "Ireland of the Welcomes" (another Irish tourism catch-phrase) by an immigration officer because they did not have return tickets, had no accommodation address in Ireland and could not show bank statements confirming they had sufficient funds to maintain themselves.

However, when they were escorted to the airline desk they were each able to pay the $1,800 required for the one-way Dublin-New York flight — by using their credit cards.

“This was the most ironic part, given the reason we were denied entry,” said Colin Zwirko, 21, speaking by telephone from the U.S. “We had enough money to pay for the tickets.”

Zwirko said he told the immigration official she could inspect the young mens' bank accounts online and confirm that they contained thousands of dollars, but she refused.

Zwirko told me he sold his Volkswagen for $7,250 to make the long-planned European tour with his friends Ben Whitehurst, 21, and Gavin Sides, 19.

They had planned to hike around Ireland for two weeks before moving on to Scotland and from there to continental Europe.

He was taken aback by “how very stern, how very cold and how very over-zealous” the uniformed official was in her decisions.

On the seven-hour flight back to the U.S., sitting separately from his friends, Zwirko felt “unable to sleep, eat or think straight.”

The group had planned to stay in Ireland with people contacted through the website, a non-profit international network that provides names of homeowners prepared to give free accommodation to travelers.

Their story, first reported in The Dallas Morning News and picked up by The Irish Times, a leading Dublin newspaper, has become a considerable embarrassment to Irish officials.
Ireland is currently making a major effort to attract American tourists to the country to boost the recession-hit economy.