UPDATE 1-Irish consumer sentiment inches up in September

(Adds quote and details of survey)

DUBLIN, Sept 30 (Reuters) - Irish consumer sentiment improved in September but remained below levels seen before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, a survey showed on Wednesday.

The KBC Bank consumer sentiment index improved to 60.7 in September from 58.9 in August. That compares with a pandemic low of 42.6 in April and a 2020 high of 85.5 in January.

“The slight gain in September is encouraging, but the zig-zag pattern of recent months hints at an Irish consumer struggling to make sense of the very unclear environment,” KBC Ireland chief economist Austin Hughes said in a statement.

The main driver of the improvement was an easing in pessimism about the broad Irish economic outlook, although the outlook remains “overwhelmingly gloomy,” Hughes said.

The survey also showed concern about unemployment rising modestly and an improvement in expectations for household finances, he said.

The survey was conducted before the re-introduction of tighter COVID-19 restrictions in the capital, Dublin, on Sept. 18.

Ireland is close to the EU average in its COVID-19 infection rates in recent weeks, according to European Centre for Disease Control data, but has been one of the most cautious in terms of restricting travel and social gatherings. (Reporting by Conor Humphries; editing by Louise Heavens, Larry King)