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Stranded Irish find creative travel solutions

Dublin — As Ireland is an island off an island off the continent of Europe, it is suffering some of the worst of the travel nightmares due to the closure of airports because of Volcanic ash from Iceland. 

Stranded Irish people all over the world are facing the challenge of getting to French ports, crossing the English Channel and then traversing England to take a ferry back across the Irish sea. In normal times that would be tedious enough. However, continental trains are fully booked, rental car lots empty, and ferry terminals overwhelmed.

This has called for creative travel solutions. Four Irish holidaymakers in Madrid have bought an old Honda Accord car for €3,000 ($4,000) and are currently somewhere in France, heading ultimately for Galway.

About 50 Irish people stranded in Rome for four days have clubbed together to hire a coach and driver for €7,000 to make the 1,050-mile trip to the French port of Le Havre. From there they are booked on a ferry to Portsmouth in England and hope to make it to Ireland by Wednesday evening.

In this crisis people are learning the value of iPhones and laptops to make advance bookings. Irish Times humorist Miriam Lord, stranded in Alicante Spain, wrote plaintively, “We’re not laughing now at the Twitter generation, with their blackpods and iBerries and palm muffins. They booked all the seats on the buses and trains and hoovered up all the rental cars before we could find a bus station on the map.”

The last lap of the journey is proving just as difficult. Irish Ferries are having to cope with unprecedented demand. All sailings on the most popular route from Holyhead in Wales to Dublin’s nearby port of Dun Laoghaire were booked out at the weekend.

There are 60 sailings every day from five ports in Ireland to nine ports in Britain, and seven direct passenger services between Ireland and France. Stena Line which operates 17 sailings a day across the Irish sea, is carrying at its capacity — 13,000 each day — an increase of 350 percent. In the spirit of Dunkirk, the small Irish navy has been put on standby, but only to make emergency medical trips.

Some Irish transplant patients in particular have to go to England for operations and the offshore patrol vessel the Le Roisin is in Dublin to take patients and support staff to the U.K. at short notice. For once Ireland is praying for rain to wash the ash out of the sky.

The forecasters say that our unusual long dry windless spell should end by Friday. This could clear the airspace over Ireland, but it will take longer for a different weather pattern to clean the skies over the rest of Europe.

The Irish government is coming under criticism for not getting on top of the emergency.

The Irish foreign minister, Micheal Martin, has given distressed travelers abroad a Dublin number to call (353-1-4082999) to get “information and reassurance,” but warned they should not expect travel arrangements or cash. “If you are running out of funds you should ask a relative or friend to transfer money through the normal commercial companies,” he said. Which is very informative and reassuring indeed.