A luxury rail tour costing €5,000 per passenger left Dublin's Connolly Station on Monday ahead of a five-day journey that will take in sites across Waterford, Cork, Kerry and Galway.
Passengers of the Emerald Isle Express will be staying in five-star castles such as Waterford and Dromoland, and will visit attractions including Waterford Crystal, Fota Island and the Cliffs of Moher along the way.
They will be travelling in restored 1960s-era carriages leased from the Railway Preservation Society of Ireland, whose volunteers will be manning the train's bar and catering facilities free of charge.
The "rail cruise" is organised by Railtours Ireland. The company's managing director Jim Deegan said the firm paid a "substantial" fee to lease the diesel locomotive and carriages and said the funds will go towards restoration and preservation of rail cars.
At a send-off reception for the 50 guests featuring classical music and champagne on platform five of Connolly Station, Mr Deegan made no secret of his desire to emulate the recently-launched Belmond Grand Hibernian, which charges about €7,000 for a similar six-night itinerary.
“People asked me if I created this five-star rail cruise in response to another luxury rail operator and the answer is, unashamedly, yes.
“When our competitor launched its five-star product, an idea I had been thinking about for some time suddenly came to life. I felt confident with the uplift in inbound tourism . . . I could really make this proposition work,” he said.
The train ride was marketed online and places have been capped at 50, all of which have been reserved by North American, British and French customers.
San Diego-based train enthusiasts Tom Brady and Fran Hanley gave an emphatic response when asked about their primary motivation for taking this expensive railway journey.
“Being off the Irish roads so I don’t get killed!” said Mr Brady. “We’re looking forward to getting a sense of Ireland as a complete country rather than just city pieces,” added Ms Hanley.
It marks a particularly special occasion for Wisconsin natives Steve and Angie Dungar, who will be renewing their vows on the 30th anniversary of their wedding in St Colman's Cathedral in Cobh on Wednesday.
“We felt it was the right time of year and it’s a place we’ve always wanted to come so we felt we’d come and enjoy it,” explained Ms Dungar. “The treatment’s been incredible so far, first class.”
The tour is due to finish in Dublin on Saturday.