* Monthly sales excluding car purchases up 3.1 pct
* Shows consumers now buying discretionary items
* Still ample room for further recovery - economist (Adds analyst quotes, detail)
By Padraic Halpin
DUBLIN, May 28 (Reuters) - Irish retail sales volumes rose 11.9 percent in April compared with the same month a year ago, the fastest annual rise since the financial crisis began as the economy's recovery broadened and gathered further pace.
Ireland's economy grew by 4.8 percent last year, its best performance since 2007 and the fastest growth in the EU as it rebounded from a debt crisis that forced the government into years of steep tax hikes and deep spending cuts.
Retail sales grew 0.5 percent month-on-month but excluding car purchases, which rose sharply in the first quarter, volumes were up 3.1 percent from March, Central Statistics Office data showed on Thursday.
"Clearly, a rapid recovery in Irish household spending is now underway," said Conall Mac Coille, chief economist at Davy Stockbrokers, adding that he would revise up his forecast for 2015 consumer spending towards 2.5 percent from 1.8 percent.
"Overall, the pattern of retail sales in early 2015 shows consumers sufficiently confident to spend on big-ticket items such as cars and furniture but now also discretionary items."
April also represented the largest rise excluding car sales since retail sales began to slowly recover in 2012, driven by an 11.6 percent rise in department store sales and an over 4 percent rise in food, beverages, tobacco and other retail sales.
Bar sales were also up 1.4 percent year-to-date -- the first annual increase in almost a decade, while only one sector -- books, newspapers and stationery -- has declined so far in 2015.
The value of sales also rose at close to the same rate, demonstrating that retailers were not as reliant on discounting as they have been in previous months.
With retail sales volumes still 8.6 below peak levels, there was "ample room" for Irish consumer spending to recover further, Davy's Mac Coille said.
The retail sales figures follow data released last week that showed the unemployment rate dropped below 10 percent for the first time in more than six years, having peaked at 15.1 percent when Ireland was in an international bailout.
"This augurs well for Irish GDP growth set to come in the 4 percent 5 percent range this year and top the Eurozone growth league table for the second year running," said Merrion Stockbrokers chief economist Alan McQuaid. (Reporting by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Toby Chopra)