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More Britons are visiting Ireland, but the country has seen a drop in the number of American visitors, statistics reveal.

Between November 2011 and January this year almost 1.2 million visits were made to Ireland, which is a 22,800 rise (1.9%) on the same three-month period a year earlier.

Figures from the Central Statistics Office show a rise in the number of Britons visiting the land of the shamrock, with a 4.7% rise, to 580,800 trips.

Visitors from continental Europe increased by 3%, taking that number up to 404,400. This means there was also a likely rise in the number of airport transfers between London airports such as Heathrow and Stansted.

But the number of long-haul trips to Ireland saw a sudden fall, with journeys from North America decreasing 5.4% to 141,900.

Visitor numbers from other areas around the globe dipped by 9.4%, to 68,400.

Leo Varadkar, minister for tourism, said the statistics were a good start to the year, even though the "picture was mixed" and the performance of some markets were more impressive than others.

"A range of factors such as economic confidence, or uncertainty, in many of our source markets is evident in these figures with visits up 16.3% from Germany and down 5.1% from Italy," he said.

"However, it is particularly important that we sustain growth in visits from Great Britain, our largest market for inbound tourism."

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