Click. Cathal O’Conaill once said that he would be a millionaire today if he had one euro for every souvenir photograph taken of his vehicles. Naturally, the founder of the Paddywagon touring company does not charge for the photos. Instead he was humorously referring to the green vehicles’ incredible popularity. In the space of only 17 years, he has made the Paddywagon brand into a legend on wheels.
It is the middle of June. In Dublin the sun breaks through the clouds again for a moment. A green Sprinter with a full complement of passengers winds through the heavy traffic. The Paddywagon takes the O’Connell Bridge to the northern side of the Irish capital. Temple Bar with its narrow streets and rustic pubs lies to the right, to the left the time-honored walls of the Trinity College. Inside the Paddywagon young Australians, Americans and continental Europeans crane their necks while the driver, Cathal O’Conaill, explains the sights. The founder of the Paddywagon touring company still takes the wheel himself on occasion. He established the company in 1998 with just one single bus. Right from the start he knew that the tourists were not coming to Ireland because of the weather. They came because of the old castles, the comfortable pubs, the breath-taking coastal cliffs and a pint of Guinness. Paddywagon shows its passengers this Ireland.
Dublin fades into the distance behind the Sprinter. The roads narrow. The tour ascends the steep Wicklow Mountains. During the journey, Cathal encourages his passengers to sing and rewards them with tales about Ireland’s incredible history and myths. After passing through Glendalogh and Powerscort, the van arrives at St. Kevin’s Cross. A legend surrounding St. Kevin’s Cross says that anyone who can wrap their arms around the cross and close the circle by touching fingertips will have their wishes granted. On the return journey to the city, Cathal O’Conaill and his passengers pass by another Paddywagon. With 32 Mercedes-Benz vehicles in his fleet they are no rarity. The approximately 80 employees also work at the company’s six own hostels, a pub and a country house. The touring company is one of a small group of companies which have succeeded in growing despite the economic downturn. Transporting more than 90,000 passengers per year, Paddywagon has now become Europe’s second-largest budget touring company. Last stop: Gardiner Street. In keeping with tradition, the tour group heads off the pubs to reminisce about the day together. Stop! One more quick photo of the Paddywagon. Click.