White-Knuckle Drives Through Ireland
Pictures from a car window in IrelandClick thumbnail to view full-size
This American has no fear of driving–in the snow, across multiple states, with 5 or more teenagers in the car–no fear! None! At least that was true before my first visit to Europe. Ireland to be exact. I wasn't worried when I planned the trip. I'd rent a car and zip to and fro, from Dublin to Trim to Cork to Kenmare to Limerick, ending in Shannon. How hard could it be to drive on the opposite side of the road, with the steering wheel on the opposite side of the car from what I was used to? Everyone told me it would be a snap and after a short time, I wouldn't even notice. They said this when I was pregnant, too. "Oh, don't worry dear, after you have the baby you won't remember the delivery." They lied.
Here is what you need to know before going to Ireland and driving a car. I would add the whole pregnancy thing, too, but it's only been 17 years and I still haven't forgotten A SINGLE SECOND of that delivery. Let's just stick to "Driving in Ireland" and we'll get along just fine.
I've included all the things I wish someone had told me before I left. And it's not like I didn't do my research - I read all the travel books! Seriously, before you travel to Ireland, peruse this list of driving "directions" and you will have a much happier experience.
- Get a tiny rental car. There is almost no way to travel around Ireland without ending up on a rural two-lane road that is typically no wider than one-and-a-half of our lanes, and with no "shoulder" to give you any leeway. What you will notice is that rental car mirrors on the left side are often crushed, missing, or include dangling wires, like mine did. I noticed that the front left side tire was missing the hubcab too, but it never occurred to me that these were related automobile mishaps.
- If you are driving with a spouse and things are not peaceful in the car on a normal basis, agree ahead of time who will drive. While you are at it, agree not to argue in the car. Good luck with this one. Our daughter said "I really enjoy Ireland - it's so beautiful - but I really hate being in the car with you two." That about sums it up - and by the end of the week, we were still having a lot of "discussions" about the proper way to drive on the left, use the radio, maneuver a roundabout, and drive though a small town mainstreet.
- Practice in a parking lot before you leave the airport. Go find a field or something. Really. Get used to the shifting and turning and rearview mirror peering. Everything's different, so you need a little time to adjust to your new auto surroundings.
- If you see that the driver's side mirror on your rental car is crushed in, and that the driver's side tires have no hubcaps anymore and their rims are a little askew, take that as a hint that everything I am saying here is true. These cars go through hell, and so do their drivers!
- If you come across a bull in the road - and you might - or a sheep, dog, or other critter, just wait it out. Plan in some "down time" while driving so that you can relax while waiting for the bull or sheep or dog to meander on past your car. Get your camera out because you have never been this close to a steaming hot red bull (other than the energy can kind) in your life. You can see the ring in his nose and the intent in his eye...he rules the road, you do not. After all, it's his country. Plus, he might just be bigger than your tiny rental car and he WILL win if you disregard my suggestion.
- Prepare yourself for your road to suddenly become dirt, possibly with grass growing out of the middle. It will be one lane, and may have a bull, but if you pray a lot, you might not see another driver for miles.
- On rural roads, there is virtually no shoulder to speak of. Just a hedge, which will eat your mirror if you get too close, which you will if a tour bus is coming. If there is a map with "pullover" spots marked, it would be a Godsend!
- When you are not driving and have lots of time to relax, drink a lot of Guiness. It is good if you can forget driving for awhile.
If you have managed to drive without injury to yourself, your spouse, or your car within the first day in Ireland, you are a better person than I. For the "Ring of Kerry" tour, we hired "The Singing Bus Driver," which was exciting and wonderful, except for my multiple pre-stroke moments when the bus squeezed through tiny tunnels, with the driver all the while singing "Danny Boy" with vigor!
Oh, and I am counting this next suggestion as a driving tip, although it is a little special. Find out where the nearest hospital is for all the places you plan to stay. It may be that the town is small and the nearest hospital will be 25 km away - with a requirement you drive the "Ring of Fear" which will mean there will be additional patients once you get to the hospital! Some towns have no xray machine handy, so if you are prone to injury, take heed of my advice. It comes from experience, as my spouse required a drive (by me) to Bantry for care. I told the doctor back in town "If he has to go back to the hospital, I'm not driving." Seriously, dude, I couldn't handle that drive again.
Ireland is beautiful. Our stay was fantastic. The sites were breathtaking. The driving sucked, but everything else was amazing. I would go back and relive it all again in a heartbeat...but not in a car!
Declan Finnegan - the Singing Bus Driver
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