Holy Roller: The Popemobile Is for Hire

The Irish Popemobile used for Pope John Paul II's visit in 1979 has been cleaned up and is ready for a party on the streets of Dublin.

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Getty Images/Manchester Daily Express

Pope John Paul II in Phoenix Park, Dublin, Ireland, September 1979

The vehicle that carried Pope John Paul II during his landmark visit to Ireland in 1979 will soon be available for all your prom, wedding and bachelor party needs. The Popemobile, which has sat idle at the Dublin Wax Museum for more than 30 years, will be released onto the streets of Dublin once again after a $78,000 makeover.

The Irish Popemobile was specially designed by Ford Ireland for the Pope’s three day visit in September 1979. More than a million people in this heavily Catholic nation made their way to Phoenix Park in Dublin to hear the pontiff speak. The strangely shaped mini-bus was built with a platform towards the front where the Pope could stand and greet his followers.

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Three and a half decades later, it looks like the vehicle and its platform will be used for a slightly different type of celebration. The Popemobile’s current owner, Paddy Dunning — who  acquired it when he bought the Dublin Wax Museum a few years ago — has refurbished the vehicle as part of his tourism operation. “It’s all part of using it for The Gathering,” Dunning explains to TIME, referring to the yearlong series of celebrations that will take place in Ireland in 2013 in an attempt to induce members of the Irish Diaspora across the globe to visit home. “We put a Mercedes [chassis] under it so that it can utilized by the general public. It will be available for sports groups, charity events and weddings. It’s the new hummer, the new limo,” he says. He also hopes to present it as a ‘Hopemobile,’ traveling around Ireland collecting folklore from the country’s “unsung heroes.”

Dunning’s family and friends got a first taste of the rejuvenated Popemobile when he drove his aunt, who is a nun, along with some fellow nuns and priests, to Dublin airport recently. He described it as a “fantastic” experience, particularly because his devoutly Catholic mother had spent days shining the Pope’s chair, which was left under her care while the vehicle was being spruced up.

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Dunning preferred not to discuss the details of the bachelor and bachelorette party celebrations which the bus is also available for. “We’re being selective about who we rent it out to and we hope it will get a variety of uses,” he told TIME over the phone.

The newly transformed Popemobile will cost $325 an hour and seats 14 people — plus one lucky visitor who gets to sit in the Pope’s gleaming chair. There has been no comment from the Catholic Church regarding the transformation of the vehicle.

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