Eoin Butler: writer, journalist and Mayoman of the Year

Tripping Along The Ledge


Published: Irish Times, July 29 2010

“To be fair, we did just fly past in a bright pink discotheque on wheels. He might have been a little bit distracted.”

‘I THINK I went to school with that guy,” mutters 28-year-old Chris Dunne of Absolute Limos as he navigates a roundabout in Clondalkin, west Dublin. Its 8pm on Saturday and we’re en route to the first pick-up of the night. When the passerby does not return his salute, Dunne is disappointed. “He didn’t even acknowledge me!”

To be fair, I point out, we did just whizz past in a bright red discotheque on wheels. He might have been a little bit distracted. Absolute Limos was founded by Joe Costello from Tallaght in 2004. Today it runs more than 16 specialist vehicles including Hummers, Bentleys, Escalades and even a kids’ play bus (with slides, cargo nets and a ball pond), catering mostly for weddings, debs, birthdays, stag and hen parties.

It’s a competitive business. Six years ago, when the craze for these ostentatious vehicles kicked off, limousines were all the rage, but they were soon surpassed in popularity by the gas-guzzling Hummer.

The Hummer, too, is now declining in popularity, meaning operators of these businesses have to come up with ever more creative ways to stay ahead of their rivals. Enter the Fire Engine Party Limousine.

Costello purchased the vehicle, formerly a working fire engine, at an auction in Northern Ireland last year and sent it to the UK to be customised and refitted. It now boasts strobe lighting, a fibre-optic mirrored ceiling and LCD karaoke screens.

The driver is prohibited from using a siren, of course, but as we roll up to our first appointment of the evening, one could hardly call our entrance inconspicuous. Dogs bark, children point and neighbours come out to gawk.

At Danielle Smith’s house in the Rowlagh estate, the guests for her 21st birthday celebration are already gathered in her front garden. There are drinks to be finished and an endless succession of cameras to be pouted for before they’ll be ready to depart. A stray gust of wind lifts one girl’s skirt and she yelps with surprise. Across the street, a small boy tosses a water balloon and flees as though his life depended on it. It’s a happy, rambunctious scene.

Dunne alights the truck to welcome his guests on board. Although a qualified driver first and foremost, his job description does stretch somewhat beyond merely chauffeuring passengers from place to place. He is kitted out in a full fireman’s uniform and the girls swarm around to have their photos taken. (He is, his boss later concedes, “one of our more presentable drivers”.) Next, he helps each girl aboard.

Once we are seated in the back, and complimentary champagne glasses have been served, our journey commences. My plan at this point has been to get in among the girls, converse and share the limousine experience.

Unfortunately, the music they’ve selected (David Guetta, Eminem, Justin Bieber) is so unmercifully loud I soon scurry back to the front of the vehicle, to observe from a distance.

The girls have booked for an hour, but their final destination is only a short distance away, so the fire truck ends up essentially driving in circles around Clondalkin and Ballyfermot as the clock runs down.

It’s not until the end is in sight that a few of the girls lean forward conspiratorially and tap me on the knee. They’re wondering if I could get them Chris’s phone number. I turn to confer with the driver and report back. He’s got a girlfriend, I tell them. They seem disappointed. Oh come on, I say. It’s not the end of the world. Besides, the whole “hunky fire fighter” thing is such a cliché – “mysterious bald man with notebook” is where it’s at.

They don’t seem convinced.

When we arrive at the Coldcut Club in Ballyfermot, the girls jump out to have their pictures taken by the waiting photographer. While they’re doing that, Dunne tells me a little more about his job. Demand for limos has not declined despite the recession, he says. However, prices have fallen sharply. An hour in the Fire Engine Limo now costs only €160, or €20 per passenger – not much more than such a trip would cost in a taxi.

Chris tells me he applied for a job with the real fire brigade, and missed out by a whisker. In his current role, he confides, he once happened upon the scene of a fire while at the wheel of the party fire engine – that was a little confusing for all concerned.

One of the girls, Nicola Church, has a question for me before they go inside. “Are yiz going to be paying us a fee for appearing in these photographs?” she wants to know. Probably not, I tell her. Why? How much does she feel that she deserves? She weights it up for a moment. “Twenty euros,” she says finally. When she sees me scribbling down the figure in my notebook, she changes her mind. “No,” he says. “Don’t put that. Put that I said I’m priceless.” I enter that correction.

Indeed you are, Nicola.

As soon as the girls have gone, Chris swings into action. The back of the truck has to be cleaned out, empty bottles binned and dirty glasses collected. For his next job, he’s collecting a Polish hen party in Swords.

Unfortunately, this group is fully booked so, for insurance reasons, I won’t be able to tag along. He’s already running late so I bid him a hurried farewell. “No rest for the wicked!” he laughs as he vaults back into the driver’s seat.

August 2nd, 2010.

9 Responses to ““To be fair, we did just fly past in a bright pink discotheque on wheels. He might have been a little bit distracted.””

  1. Ponyo Says:

    They should move into vehicles from T.v. and film or would there be copyright hassle on them? I’d love to be drunk in the Turtles van

  2. DD Says:

    Funny enough but wasn’t it a red fire truck the last time I checked? http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/features/2010/0729/1224275684605.html

  3. Jennys limos Says:

    I’m not sure how a pink fire-engine would fit in to your average stag or hen night, but I could see it being very popular for perhaps same sex parties.

  4. massey Says:

    @ Ponyo, what about an A-Team van? Imagine jumping out of that with four of your friends. I bags Hannibal!!

  5. graham Says:

    Would it be politically incorrect of me to go as BA (being white obviously? I wouldn’t paint my face though. I’d just do the mohican and “bad attitude.” (trademark)

  6. Eoin Says:

    @ Ponyo – at the moment their male clientele is at about zero so that
    so that might not be a bad idea.

    @ Graham – of course not. I remember getting a Mr T costume for Christmas: plastic Mr T mask, plastic “denim” waistcoat and plastic jewelry. Think I might even have worn them to mass on Christmas day.

  7. Eoin Says:

    @ DD – you’re right, I changed it to pink in the headline to match the photo I wanted to use. I think it is what you would call serious journalistic malpractice. I’m retiring to my quarters with a loaded revolver even as we speak.

  8. Ponyo Says:

    I reckon the Ghostbusters car would be good but doesn’t carry that many people. It’s an old style ambulance and not a hearse isn’t it? Also the dog van from Dumb & Dumber is bound to be popular with stag nights

    @Massey You going as the originals or be really weird and go as the new ones and pretend you never heard of the original show, say you just thought it was this great new film. Is there any one in the world like that I wonder or is its’ entire audience just people who remember it

  9. massey Says:

    Itd have to be the originals Ponyo. I’d the film is awful shite altogether. The only down side is you could only have four lads along though plus maybe one girl — what was she called Amy or something I think. The rest of your mates would have to follow in a chopper (firing lots of bullets that msteriously never hit anything!!)

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