Martin’s Coaches reach a major milestone



Industry-leading, Limerick-based family business Martin’s Coaches celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2023. To coincide with this landmark anniversary, we spoke to business director Willie Martin, who doubles up as chairman of the Coach Tourism & Transport Council of Ireland.

Martin’s Coaches in Limerick is no ordinary coach and private bus hire company. To the contrary, a genuine, infectious passion for buses, coaches and all things coaching permeates every facet of this outstanding second-generation, family-run enterprise.

To the Martin family, coaches and customer service is a vocation more so than a business model and that is one of the many reasons why Martin’s Coaches arrive at their 50th anniversary in such rude health – firmly established as one of Munster’s (and indeed Ireland’s) premier coach hire companies.

When asked how it feels to see the family business – which operates out of Annacotty on the outskirts of Limerick city – mark half a century of looking after passengers, business director Willie Martin noted: “There have been many ups and downs along the way but we are still here and that’s the most important thing.

“Anyone involved in a family business will tell you that if you treat it on a purely commercial premise, then you wouldn’t last this long. This was always much more than a business to us – it’s a way of life and a labour of love. This is what we enjoy doing and that’s why we kept going through thick and thin.”

Martin’s Coaches was established in 1973 by Richard Martin and his wife Eileen. Today, the founders’ son Willie and his wife Noëlle oversee the administrative side of the renowned business, while Willie’s brother, Paddy – a qualified mechanic – keeps the fleet in perfect running order, with invaluable assistance in the state-of-the-art workshop from Janusz Foks.

Willie recounts how his grandparents were dairy farmers and his father, who grew up on the family farm, became an engineer. When Ferenka opened in Limerick, manufacturing steel cord for tyres, Richard worked there as a line foremen and bought a 41-seater Bedford SB, which was sometimes used to drive workers in and out to the factory.

Richard initially drove the bus at weekends and in the evenings, keeping on his day job, but Martin’s Coaches soon became his sole focus and subsequently continued to grow steadily on the back of strong demand for excellent customer service.

In a perhaps preordained twist of fate that saw them go full circle, the Martins bought a one-acre site in Annacotty Business Park on the site of the former Ferenka complex in 2004 – having previously operated from a variety of sites at their home, a rented yard and a rented warehouse – and Annacotty has been their HQ since.

Another key development in the business came in 1998 when Martin’s Coaches started doing tours for the first time. Today, they provide all the services typically associated with a long-established, market-leading independent private coach hire operator – sightseeing tours across Ireland and the UK, coach hire for sporting events and other occasions throughout Limerick and the Mid West, corporate travel, school and third-level college transportation, airport transfers, etc., etc.

Brothers Willie and Paddy have been involved in the business since they were young men. While the former studied at the College of Commerce in Rathmines and also qualified from the Chartered Institute of Transport, Paddy became a heavy diesel mechanic and his expertise saw him slot perfectly into the family business.

In February of this year, Willie Martin was appointed chairman of the Coach Tourism & Transport Council of Ireland (CTTC) following his ratification at the organisation’s AGM in Dundalk. The director at Martin’s Coaches has been a member of the CTTC since 1994 and has served on the executive council of the Association since 2008. He successfully chaired, organised and ran the hugely successful national Coach & Bus Show since 2009, with the event hitting a peak in 2022, when over 2,500 attendees visited the RDS over two days.

“Probably because of the course I did in Rathmines, I always had a keen interest in policy and how to change things,” he recounts. “Things have changed an awful lot in coach hire over the years and I’m the kind of person who would always look at things and ask ‘why can’t there be change?’. The interest I have in policy and change led to me becoming more involved in the CTTC and it was real honour to be elected as chairman. Following in the footsteps of so many leading lights in our industry is certainly not a challenge that I’m taking lightly.”

Upon being elected to the chair of Ireland’s leading coach and bus operators’ representative body. Willie commented: “The industry has undergone existential challenges in recent years and while recovery has happened, the reality is that inflationary pressures continue to wreak havoc on operators’ bottom line and this must be addressed as a priority. My tenure will be marked by a strong commitment to continuing the great work done by the chairs I have succeeded, while seeking to address the need for further supports for membership, amid a period of great change in the sector.”

At the time of writing, Martin’s Coaches were operating a fantastic, versatile fleet of 20 fresh and immaculately-maintained vehicles, including Mercedes, DAF and Scania models from ten-seaters up to luxury 55-seater coaches as well as a handful of Transits. They generate direct employment for a team of 15 drivers. “There’s plenty of work there but drivers are not easy to find,” Willie laments. “As an industry, we need to do more to make room for both younger and older drivers. We could attract more drivers if some of the age-related restrictions were relaxed.

“For example, a driver has to be 24 before they can drive on a Bus Eireann school contract, while drivers in their 70s are also not permitted to dive school buses but are allowed to drive to the UK or on the continent. The way things are, younger or older people with a flair for driving would be more tempted to drive a lorry.

“Because of the hours involved, driving school buses actually suits semi-retired people and we’d be looking to have the maximum age limit increased from 70 upwards, although we’re getting no hearing with that at the minute. Generally, older guys wouldn’t be in a rush and are more experienced. Why not increase the medicals to twice a year and allow people to drive if they are qualified to do so?”

Some of the other issues Willie and the CTTC want to address are extending the VAT rebate on new touring coaches to also cover public service and local service buses, as well as the affordability (or lack thereof) of electric coaches. “You are talking double the price for an electric vehicle and you’d also have to upgrade your depot to make sure you have an adequate power supply and upgrade and train your technicians. If electric coaches are to become financially viable, something will have to be done to make them more affordable.”

Martin’s Coaches remains very much a family business with Willie, Noëlle, Paddy, Richard and Eileen all involved. “Like I said, it’s a vocation and without the support of my family around me we’d have nothing. They have all invested so much time into the business.”

The next big milestone for Martin’s Coaches will be their centenary. As of 2023, they are halfway there! “We hope the business will continue to progress,” Willie concludes. “The driver issue is massive and it’s particularly difficult to find drivers for extended tours. If we had the staff, we could be a lot busier than we are. We’ll always adapt to how the market is, but hopefully the industry can make some progress in tackling the driver shortage, which is holding everybody back.”

Martin’s Coaches,

Unit 7,

Annacotty Business Park,


County Limerick.

Tel: 061 333100

Mobile: 087 2520391

Email: [email protected]


First published in Irish Trucker magazine December 2023/January 2024, Vol 26-7