Thousands of holidaymakers have left Tunisia following a terrorist attack in Sousse in which 38 people were killed, including three Irish people.

A couple in their mid 50s, named locally as Laurence (Larry) and Martina Hayes from Athlone, Co Westmeath, are confirmed to have died in the attack, which took place on Friday when a lone gunman opened fire on a beach.

The Hayes family is well known in the Athlone area and has strong business links in the town.

The couple have one daughter.

Mr Hayes was a school bus inspector with Bus Éireann and had worked at the company for 20 years, beginning as a bus driver in Galway.

The company extended its sympathy to the couple's family, and friends as well as Mr Hayes' colleagues.

Gardaí and officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs are liaising with the family.

The third Irish victim is Lorna Carty, a mother-of-two from Robinstown in Co Meath.

She was on holiday in the popular beach resort of Sousse with her husband Declan when the attack happened.

Sousse’s tourism commissioner said more than 3,000 foreign tourists had left the town yesterday, including around 2,200 British and nearly 600 Belgians.

Tunisia's tourism minister called the attack a "catastrophe" and authorities vowed to toughen security, drafting in army reserves and arming tourism police at beaches and hotels.    

More than a thousand armed security guards have been deployed to beaches and other public areas.         

Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan has urged people travelling to Tunisia to exercise extreme caution.

"I'm not in the business of imposing travel bans but I would say to people be extremely vigilant and extremely cautious in implementing any holiday plans in the region and keep in close contact with the tour operators and the police authorities."

The Irish Ambassador to Spain, David Cooney, echoed Minister Flanagan's comments saying they were not advising people against travelling to Tunisia, but that it was important to be vigilant. 

Speaking to RTÉ's Richard Downes Mr Cooney said efforts were underway to ensure the bodies of the Irish citizens who lost their lives could be repatriated as soon as possible.

He said everything would be done to ensure Irish citizens are protected as well as can be expected.

Irish Ambassador to Spain, David Cooney, urges holiday makers to travel cautiously to Tunisia

At least 30 British people are thought to have died in the attack.

British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond warned that it was highly likely a "significant number" of victims yet to be identified would be British.

Among the British citizens killed was Joel Richards, 22, who played for James Connolly Gaelic Football Club in Birmingham and was also actively involved in Birmingham County FA Youth Council.

Mr Richards' uncle, 46-year-old Adrian Evans and his 78-year-old grandfather Patrick Evans, were also killed in the attack.

His 16-year-old brother Owen survived.

Lincolnshire Photographer Carly Lovett, 24, was killed as were Sue Davey and her partner Scott Chalkley from Staffordshire.

Another British couple, Jim and Ann McQuire from Cumbernauld, are also among the dead. 

Tunisian student Saif Rezgui opened fire on the beach of the Imperial Marhaba hotel before making his way to the pool and hotel before being shot dead by police.

Tunisian authorities said Rezgui was not on any watchlist of known potential militants.

But one source said he appeared to have been radicalised over the last six months by Islamist militant recruiters.

The self-styled Islamic State group later claimed responsibility for the attack.

It identified the gunman as Abu Yahya al-Qayrawani - a "soldier of the caliphate".

Several thousand Tunisian jihadists have gone to fight in Syria, Iraq and neighbouring Libya, where some have set up training camps and vowed to return to attack their homeland.

Traveller safety 'paramount' - Sunway

A spokeswoman for Irish tour operator Sunway said it is trying to contact as many of its customers as possible, including a large number who no longer want to travel to Tunisia.

Sunway said while it is still flying to Tunisia, traveller safety is paramount and it will be guided by the Department of Foreign Affairs.

The 177 people due to travel to Tunisia next Friday are being offered a full refund or a change of destination depending on availability.

Tanya Airey confirmed a high proportion wanted to change their destination and Friday's flight to Monastir is being kept under review.

For departures from 10 July, passengers can cancel for a fee, stay with Tunisia, or be offered a chance to switch to another destination.

There will be no full refunds for departures from 10 July. 

Sunway is also facilitating those traveled to Tunisia despite the attack with 59 of the 177 booked on Friday’s flight deciding not to go to Tunisia.

"We are holding welcome meetings for them at hotels," Ms Airey said, adding that many of the hotels are at another resort around half an hour away from Sousse where the attack occurred.

Sunway only deals with a proportion of Irish holidaymakers to Tunisia.

Many others are travelling with English companies who are taking direction from the British Foreign office.