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Dublin by Popemobile

Touring the Irish Capital the Pontiff Way?


You can now tour Dublin in the Popemobile ... feel like John Paul II when visiting the Irish capital, only with less of a crowd adoring you and maybe the slight nagging feeling that something is not quite right here. Not as "in Dublin", but as in "the popemobile".

What is a "Popemobile"?

Far from being a cellular phone with a direct line to the Vatican, a popemobile is an automobile that has been used by a pope on an official visit. I guess that covers it best. Pope Benedict XVI's old Volkswagen Golf (or Rabbit to US readers) would not qualify. Think "large car with elevated platform and (in later years bullet-proof) screens" instead. For the pope to see the masses and the masses to see the pope.

Ireland has its very own popemobile. Built at the (now defunct) Ford factory in Cork exclusively for the visit of John Paul II in 1979.

Now this popemobile (like most of its ilk) had a very short period of use, one careful and eminently prominent owner, low mileage and distinctive custom bodywork. Not to mention a bespoke interior, including a confortable chair for the pontiff. A papal seat, so to say.

The History of Ireland's Popemobile

Built in 1979 and basically only used once, the Ford with its curious bodywork resembling a cut-price commuter bus with viewing area lingered for a while before it was snapped up by an entrepreneur.

For a while the curious carriage formed part of the collection of the National Wax Museum in Dublin, then it disappeared (along with the wax museum and the building it was housed in). The collection was bought lock, stock and barrel by another businessman and put into storage for years. Apparently in diverse places. Speaking to the media, owner Paddy Dunning pointed out that the pope's chair from the pope's chariot was, in fact, at his mother's house for a while. Where "nuns from Rome" visited (and maybe venerated) it.

Anyway - Dunning thought it a good idea to get the popemobile back on the road (the slightly cramped National Wax Museum Plus would have problems fitting it in, I suppose). And poured around € 60,000 into this venture.

What You See is What You Get

Aficionados of popemobiles and historic vehicles in general may reel in horror after a first glimpse at the "original Popemobile used to transport Pope John Paul II during his visit to Ireland in 1979" (text from the popemobile web page). Because this is not the original.

I realise that John Paul II is on a fast track to sainthood, but even a saint may have found it quite difficult to travel to the future, swap a 1979 Ford for a 2012 Mercedes and then bring it back. What Dunning did was take the bodywork off the original and then transplant it onto a new chassis. A sacrilige!

What Can You Do With Dublin's Popemobile?

You can hire it - prices start at around € 300 per hour, for "photo calls, product launches, family outings, sports club transport, charity events, exhibitions, pilgrimages and weddings" (again quoted from the web page). The original promotional pack, as quoted by the Irish Times at the time, also listed other possible uses, including hen and stag nights ... the thought of sexed-up pre-nuptial party shenanigans in the chair that nuns from Rome used to visit might have been just too much for the collective Irish psyche to include it in the official website.

Well, What's the Verdict on Dublin's Popemobile Then?

First of all, it is not the original. This is something that bugs me big time. If the original had been faithfully (no pun intended) restored and put to good use, I would approach the whole subject with less of a gut feeling. A feeling that tells me that it is just another idea to cash in on John Paul II's undiminished popularity.

On the other hand, the Mercedes with the historical bodywork looks like a fun vehicle to use. And it has a viewing balcony. And you will certainly attract publicity. Making it ideal for some uses and users. Let's face it, pink stretch Humvees are so last decade ...

Personally I also think that this is an opportunity for mischief - not only for hens and stags, but also for making a point. Can you imagine Richard Dawkins arriving for a lecture in the popemobile? Oh the irony! Or maybe a coven of witches or a delegation from the Church of Satan taking it around for a spin?

The mind boggles ...

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