Michael Walsh: a pioneer of the Irish travel industry and lifelong pilgrim
Michael Walsh: first person to operate a pilgrimage by air from Ireland to the Holy Land
Detail from The Sea of Galilee by Michael Walsh 1998 (Oil on canvas 76 X 76cm)
Michael Walsh was a pioneer of the Irish travel industry during the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, specialising in pilgrimages to Lourdes, Rome, the Holy Land and other sacred sites. Michael was a founding member and the first president of the Irish Association of Travel Agents. He was the first person to operate a pilgrimage by air from Ireland to the Holy Land and was the first Irish travel agent to secure an integrated charter contract with Aer Lingus. For his achievements, Pope John Paul II awarded Michael the Cross for Church and Pontiff gold medal in 1985.
While attending UCD late in 1946, Michael saw an advertisement in a magazine: “The Most Dangerous Job in the World – Join the Palestine Police.” And that’s precisely what he did. He ran away from home and college to Palestine and discovered the Holy Land, a place he would spend the rest of his life returning to. His knowledge and passion for the Land of the Cross was second to none and his greatest calling was to lead pilgrims as they read the scriptures and walked in the footsteps of Jesus.
As a young man, Michael travelled coast to coast across the US and Canada, riding the rails and hitchhiking. In 1950, he walked to Rome and met the pope. On the strength of publishing his account of that journey he established his business, Michael Walsh Travel of D’Olier Street, Dublin, with the motto: “I travel with you”.
He made films of his travels which he took on lecture tours and spoke about in every parish hall in the country.
He also wrote and published several books.
For leisure, Michael headed inland towards the heart of Ireland to navigate and explore his beloved river Shannon. Aboard a four-berth timber cabin-cruiser christened Red Hugh, these adventures were shared largely with his children David, Brian, Susan, Conor and Nuala, their cousins and many friends. This was no leisure cruise; this was epic adventure on the high seas of Lough Derg and Lough Ree as Michael pursued his goal of charting the length and breadth of the inland waterways of Ireland. A book was duly published called Shannon Days.
In his later years, Michael wrote his memoirs and painted pictures. He asked me to teach him to paint early in 1990 and so we worked together for several months. This set in motion a late flowering of creativity during which he produced a body of work which is as unique and extraordinary as he was. He painted his vision in oil on canvas of all the great and glorious sacred places he shared with the countless pilgrims who travelled with him.
Dad passed away peacefully on Easter Saturday at the age of 92 surrounded by his family. He lived an exceptionally long, involved and multifaceted life which he shared so generously with his wife May – his loving soulmate for 65 years – their five children, 10 grandchildren, six great-grandchildren, three sisters, extended family and innumerable friends in every corner of the world who will never forget his enthusiasm, integrity and kindness.
Born: September 9th, 1926
Died: April 20th, 2019