Novelty souvenirs are proving very pope-ular ahead of Francis visit

By Joyce Fegan

From solar-powered dancing pontiffs to fold-up biodegradable chairs, when it comes to papal paraphernalia, there is very little you can’t buy.

With shops dedicating entire windows to merchandise and stores decorating their interiors with Vatican-themed bunting, Pope Francis’ visit is causing a surge in sales for retailers around the country.

Dunnes Stores is stocking yellow and white baseball caps with the Vatican crest, as well as flags and three different T-shirts to commemorate the papal visit this weekend.

The yellow T-shirt with an image of Pope Francis’ face is proving most popular, with one Dublin store needing to restock it three times so far. Similar T-shirts come in white and green.

Religious store, Veritas, planned far in advance for the papal visit, importing goods from Italy several months ago. 

They have a number of shops around Ireland, but their main store on Dublin’s Abbey St has been a hive of activity with people searching for papal merchandise.

Some of the quirky items for sale ahead of the visit of Pope Francis to Ireland.

They have dedicated their entire shop window to Pope Francis related goods, which include pens, rosary beads, metal signs, cups, T-shirts, candles, keyrings and canvas tote bags. Items start from as little as €1. Green rosary beads have been one of their best sellers so far. Other popular items include a 40cm statue of the Pope. Also selling well are the approximately 30 books relating to the World Meeting of Families.

Customers are coming in to buy the merchandise for commemorative purposes as well as to use on the day of the papal visit. Perhaps the most innovative and unusual item on the merchandise circuit is the environmentally-friendly portable chair on sale in Veritas and retailing at €18.95.

It was designed by Dubliner John McGarry after he developed a prototype he used at a concert and tested again in the rain.

He said he came up with the idea for a chair for the papal visit upon hearing that some people could be standing for up to eight hours in the Phoenix Park.

Weighing just 1.5kg and coming as a flat-pack with handles, the chair carries the World Meeting of Families logo as well as a picture of Pope Francis. Mr McGarry had 1,500 of the chairs produced by the Smurfit Kappa for sale in Veritas. The durable device is made from double-wall corrugated 100% recyclable board and has been dubbed the ‘Pope Chair’ online.

Due to extremely high demand on this item the chair can’t be delivered on time to online purchasers — however, click and collect is available at the Veritas Abbey St branch.

Aside from Veritas and Dunnes, other stores getting a piece of the papal paraphernalia action are EuroGiant and Dealz.

EuroGiant is stocking large Bibles for €2 and plates and cups with the pontiff’s face on them.

Dealz is carrying a significant amount of Pope-themed merchandise, with their €1.50 ‘Lollipope’ sold out in several of their outlets. The lollipop carries the Pope’s face on it as well as the Irish flag. Dealz are also selling Vatican-themed bunting and flags which people are buying to decorate their houses with. The 9m long bunting contains 50 flags and is also being stocked in other stores around Ireland, such as Veritas, which sell it for €19.95.

The Silly Shop on Dublin’s Liffey St is selling some of the more comical papal items, which include a bobble-head of the pontiff for €5. This has been one of the shop’s bestsellers when it comes to papal paraphernalia, with other more usual items on sale there such as T-shirts, flags and lollipops.

One shop going out on their own is Maktus, which has a premises on Dublin’s George’s Arcade as well as selling online. They are carrying a T-shirt encompassing the Pope’s face, the Pride flag and the Repeal logo. This retails at €18 and also comes in the form of a poster.

The shop is also stocking several coasters, carrying the phrase “Go on, have a can with Fran” and “Don’t be a dope, use a coaster”. 

Other items in stock are a finger puppet of the Pope for €9.95 and a coin purse carrying the pontiff’s face. Perhaps their most playful piece of merchandise is a large sticker of the Pope’s face, which when applied to a car window, looks as if he is travelling in the vehicle with you.

Artists are also joining in on the action with gallery owner Frank O’Dea giving away free papal bobble-heads with any piece of artwork purchased during the Pope’s visit. Based in the Westbury Mall, just off Grafton St, Mr O’Dea’s Balla Bàn Art Gallery is known for its artwork of famous faces including US President Donald Trump.

The bobble-heads will come with a small 32-page book with photos, famous quotes and short biography about the Pope.

“We think this will be very ‘pope-ular’ souvenir to mark the pope’s visit to Ireland this month,” Mr O’Dea said.

While most merchandise is being sold through established retailers, other chains that will start selling papal goods include petrol station Circle K, formerly Topaz. Street sellers are also expected to start selling merchandise in the coming days as visitors arrive in Ireland for Pope Francis’ historic visit.


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