One of Ireland's oldest, largest and best-known travel agents and tour operators, Joe Walsh Tours, has closed down.

In a statement, the Commission for Aviation Regulation (CAR) said Joe Walsh Pilgrimtours Ltd, trading under a number of different brand names including Joe Walsh Tours, is unable to fulfil its obligations to customers and has ceased trading.

"The Commission operates a consumer protection scheme and, if you find you are out of pocket, you may be covered by this scheme," the CAR said.

"The Commission also operates a Refund Credit Note Scheme. You may be covered by this scheme if your holiday has been cancelled due to Covid-19 and you have yet to receive a refund from Joe Walsh Pilgrimtours Ltd."

Prior to the pandemic, the company had offices in the UK, Europe, and the US and employed more than 100 people, but it is understood to currently have around 25 staff.

Joe Walsh Tours was founded in 1961 by Co Down native Joe Walsh, after he had spent time working for the Ulster Transport Authority and later with Thomas Cook in London.

Seeing the potential for growth of the travel industry, Mr Walsh began offering affordable package holidays here.

It has since grown into one of Ireland’s leading travel companies, specialising in amongst other things the running of tours to pilgrimage destinations as well as escorted tours, including through the use of chartered aircraft.

The firm also branched out into sports travel, including trips to a full range of high-profile sports fixtures, as well as cruises, military, heritage, music and school tours, and overseas weddings.

Family owned, the company is now run by Mr Walsh's sons Barry and David Walsh.

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In a statement, Joe Walsh Pilgrimtours confirmed it had ceased trading and has not traded since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

However, the company said it had remained open during the period to assist customers with refunds and rebookings.

"Joe Walsh Pilgrimtours Ltd. did everything they could to see themselves and their customers through the pandemic," it said.

"Travel protocols in Ireland are the most restrictive in Europe, putting Irish travel companies at a disadvantage to their European counterparts."

The company said it like other travel agencies and tour operators was paying overheads, but was unable to trade and was also waiting on refunds from suppliers.

It added that while it has business interruption insurance in place and had hoped to be able to continue trading following a refund claim from the insurers, it has not been possible to reach agreement with the insurers at this stage.

The company's directors said the decision to close has been made is in the best interest of all concerned.

"We would like to thank, at this time, all our customers over the years," they said.

"We would also like to acknowledge the incredible effort that our staff have made, and for their loyalty and support, particularly during the last year."

The Commission for Aviation Regulation said customers may be covered by the consumer protection schemes if they purchased a package from Joe Walsh Pilgrimtours Ltd and the package included travel from Ireland.

It said customers may also be covered by the scheme if they bought travel only commencing in Ireland.

Those issued with a refund credit note from Joe Walsh Pilgrimtours Ltd may be entitled to a refund from the Refund Credit Note scheme, if their booking was a package that included travel, departing Ireland.

There is also separate consumer protection in place to cover customers who bought a travel package commencing elsewhere in Europe.

Those with group bookings should complete and submit a claim form available on the CAR website.

If a group booking was made through a group organiser directly, the group organiser must complete and submit the form, the CAR said.

The Irish Travel Agents Association said it noted with regret that Joe Walsh Tours has ceased trading as from today.

Pat Dawson, CEO of the Irish Travel Agents Association

Pat Dawson, CEO of the ITAA, said today was a sad day for the travel industry as the long established agent closes its doors.

"Joe Walsh Tours was established in 1961 and was one of Ireland's leading travel companies through the decades, certainly one of the best known. Indeed many travel agents throughout the country learnt their trade with JWT before opening up their own travel agencies," Mr Dawson said.

He said the closure highlights the difficulties the travel industry has been experiencing.

"The Irish Travel Agents Association call on the Government to extend income support for travel agents into 2022 when the public are back travelling and holidaying again," Pat Dawson said.