Fourth generation at Robert Kilkelly Travel

ROBERT Kilkelly Travel of Castlebar have the proud record of being the oldest in the west of Ireland and after 153 years are still going strong - and are now the only remaining travel agency in the county town, writes Tom Gillespie.

Emma Kilkelly is the fourth generation to run the business, following in her great-grandfather Robert Kilkelly’s footsteps.

She has always had a great interest in travel, and from a very young age worked after school and during school holidays in the family business. She was educated at St. Angela’s National School and St. Joseph’s Secondary School.

She told me: 'On finishing school I was undecided about my future career and so I went to Dublin. After a number of years working in international banking I moved to the travel industry.

'Initially I worked for independent travel agencies and a number of tour operators, finishing up with Joe Walsh Tours.

'Having discovered Europe while growing up, I travelled to the Caribbean islands of Antigua, Barbados, the Bahamas, explored Bali, Singapore and Thailand, visited Australia, toured New Zealand, chilled out on the white sands of Tahiti, and surfed in Hawaii.'

In March 2001, she returned to Castlebar and joined the family travel business.

She added: 'We are the only travel business in the west of Ireland trading for over 153 years. Our early records show that in 1873, Robert was an agent for the American Steamship Company of Philadelphia.

'The Philadelphia and Liverpool Line were the only transatlantic line sailing under the United States flag.

'In 1880 Robert was an agent for the ship ‘Silver Eagle’ which sailed between Plymouth and Maryborough, Australia, and in 1915 Robert was appointed agent for the Cunard Line, selling passages to the United States.

'My grandfather, Robert Kilkelly, broadened the business, and in 1934, with his involvement with the Catholic Boy Scouts of Ireland, travelled to Rome for the Holy Year Pilgrimage. As there were no flights at this time he was one of 600 scouts who travelled to Rome and back on board S.S. Lancastria.

'The scouts boarded the ship at North Wall in Dublin, sailed via Gibraltar on the outbound and via Morocco on the return. The trip lasted 17 days and the fare was £10.

'With the commencement of air travel in the early 1950s he was awarded sales representative for many airlines worldwide. And he was one of the first passengers to fly with Aer Lingus Irish International Airlines on their inaugural flight from Shannon to the US.'

Emma continued: 'Following my grandfather’s death my father Fergus developed the travel business even further, with the increase in demand for both corporate and leisure. The building of Ireland West Airport Knock was wonderful for the people of the west of Ireland, allowing them to travel to and from the UK for work in the 1980s.

'However, since I joined the business at Market Square in 2001, this has changed and Knock has opened up great selections of sun destinations for the leisure market.

'We now specialise in leisure travel, family sun holidays, ski and active holidays, escorted tours, cruise holidays, honeymoon packages, city breaks, sports packages, and worldwide flights. In our office no one day is ever the same.

'Our repeat loyal customers are very important to us. We listen to their needs, we research best value for their money, and we deliver a good service. We regularly do online check in, print all their documentation for cruising and take time to explain the small print.'

In the 1990s there were three travel agencies in Castlebar. Now there's just the one.

Emma, a cruise and long haul consultant, added: 'During the recession we found that the leisure market had changed and the amount of holidays we would have been doing changed. As opposed to going for two holidays a year, it dropped down to one holiday a year. They switched from going for 14 nights to a seven-night holiday.

'But we found we had an increase in our flights worldwide because the younger age group and families were moving to Australia, New Zealand and Canada. In one particular week we had nearly 30 people booking.'

This month Emma said they will have new offers coming in on cruises and long and short haul options.

She said: 'The cruise market has expanded over the last few years and they have become more affordable. The ships have adapted to cater for the younger age group to make it more active and attractive for them. They have also developed their ships, offering a lot more for families. The likes of Total Caribbean have a lot of themed characters on board, like Shrek. They have introduced new splash zone areas and family dining areas.

'Cruising is now more affordable and when we compare a seven-night holiday in a hotel in Lanzarote, half-board, and the difference of going on a seven-night cruise holiday with Broadway shows and a high standard of service, the prices would be very comparable.'

Portugal, Emma said, is their number one destination out of Knock. After that it's mainland Spain, the Canary Islands, and particularly Lanzarote, which operates out of Knock all year round.

Emma loves to travel and in the last few years she has travelled to South Africa, South America, the west and east coast of the United States, Vietnam and the Indian Ocean.

Her main interests outside work would be travelling and music, and she has been a member of Ballinrobe Musical Society for a number of years and recently joined Castlebar Musical & Drama Society where she is part of the chorus. She also enjoys dining with friends.

Kilkelly Travel, 1 Kilkelly House, Market Square, Castlebar, can be contacted on (094) 9021264 or

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