AIB have closed 44 branches in towns and villages across the country today.

The closures were part of a major rationalisation of branches within the group, which will see 67 branches close altogether by next year.

AIB said the move to close and amalgamate branches and sub offices across the country follows a detailed review of its banking services.

It says it is regrettable but necessary to help AIB return to viability.

Many services are moving to branches in other towns and cities, and AIB said that some of its cash-lodgement services will be provided by local post offices.

AIB said it is also providing a mobile banking service on particular days of the week for some of the towns and villages affected.

However, the move has been described as a devastating blow to rural life by communities in villages affected by closures.

In the village of Dromcollogher, in Co Limerick, the community raised a strong campaign to try and keep the branch open, including meeting executives at AIB HQ in Dublin and mounting a protest at the Dáil.

They say it is a major setback for them and for businesses who worry about how the move will affect their business traffic, and they also have security fears about not being able to move cash locally.

For many towns and villages it could mean a round trip of up to 20km a day to get to another branch.

Three more branches will close in November, and 13 will close next year.

AIB says it regrets the branch closures but that it must bring the bank to stability and viability and provide a return to the taxpayer.

AIB's head of branch banking Denis O'Callaghan said 200 branches will remain across the country after the closures.

He said they are also expanding the number of transactions available at the 1,160 post offices, and 85% of branch services will be available there.

Four mobile banks will also operate covering 31 locations.

However, he acknowledged that some transactions will only be possible in branches.