When planning our recent trip to Ireland, the one thing that concerned me most was how to get around. Should we take a bus? Limit ourselves to train travel? Or should we rent a car, as so many travel sites suggested?
When we made the decision to rent a car, that opened up a series of questions in my mind that no web site I ran across could adequately address. Actually, it boiled down to one question: what problems would we encounter driving in Ireland and how easily could we address those?
An on-line search helped identify some potential issues. Irish roads are narrow. Irish drivers drive on the left instead of the right. Cars for rent are generally manual transmissions as opposed to automatics. And I believe I saw mention of how fast Irish drivers drive.
My spouse did all the driving, I will confess up front, even though I’d intended to share in that responsibility. Instead, I took on the role of navigator and backup alert system. If you are assigned that role, remember these four things:
- As you sit on the left side of the car, you will perceive foliage and walls to the left as being closer than they really are.
- The tires will sometimes squeal against the curb on the left and occasionally said tires will go up over the curb verifying that your perception of their close proximity will be correct.
- You will often, at least initially, find yourself attempting to reach for a phantom steering wheel and maybe even pressing your foot against a mythical clutch pedal.
- No matter how hard you try, you will periodically scream out. Since you’re not really in the driver’s seat, feel free to self-medicate with a good craft beer or hard cider to take the edge off and reduce the urge to flail your arms and loudly express the view that you are about to die.
My spouse who did the driving offered the following perspective:
- Driving on the left isn’t that hard to get used to, although turning into the correct lane, especially turning right, does take some getting used to and requires some thought at intersections.
- A very experienced driver of a manual transmission may still have trouble operating the clutch and getting the transmission into the right gear. (This, by far, was his biggest challenge.) Foot pedals are where you’d expect them to be but the gear shift is on the left.
- The passenger riding to the driver’s left is no help when he/she cries out in a panic. Except for the exceptions mentioned above the driver knows what he/she is doing.
In general, there are several other things I wished I’d known ahead of time:
- The freeways are great and easy to navigate. We took two, one between Dublin and Cork and the second from Galway to Dublin, roads designated with an ‘M.’. After first driving a car in Ireland, getting on the freeway fairly quickly makes it easier to get used to driving on the left. The freeways are divided therefore preventing driving head-on into oncoming traffic. Once on the freeway, exit on the left and stay in the left lane if you would like to drive more slowly than traffic.
- The speed limit on many roads, even many rural ones, is 100 kilometers an hour. The driver should always take into consideration that this is a ‘limit’ and not a ‘floor.’ Yes, Irish drivers drive very fast, even around blind curves, but they will pass you if you choose to drive more slowly.
- Always look both ways before proceeding. Our one close call was near the center city of Galway when we inched forward through a gap in traffic only to encounter a speeding car in the lane beside the one where traffic had stopped. Fortunately, the driver was able to brake in time.
- If you choose to take the ferry between Cork/Dingle and Killarney/Cliffs of Moher/Galway rather than going through Limerick, just remember
that the ferry sails once an hour, and also that each ferry holds many more vehicles than you’d think. We’d overhead someone in the car line waiting for the next ferry say that only nine vehicles could get on the ferry. As far as I could tell, all the waiting cars made it on, including a large gasoline truck—many more than nine vehicles.
- And some roads can be very narrow, especially off the main road. Outside Dingle on Slea Head Drive, which is little more than one lane, we encountered a beer truck coming the opposite direction. Except for that one encounter, though, making the lovely drive was the best few hours we spent in Ireland.
Although my spouse isn’t eager to drive again in Ireland, and we think we will be happy on a return trip to take a bus and use tour companies, our trip would have been much more restricted if we hadn’t hand the car. Having a car was useful when we visited Killarney National Park where we spent as much time as we wanted walking the paths and making our way to the Torc Falls, as well as having a decent lunch in the visitor center. As mentioned before, Slea Head Drive is beautiful and we had time to take in the different spots in the circuit at our own pace and according to our interests. The Blasket Islands Center was beautiful and fascinating. We spent time looking through the poignant famine cottages, and saw a museum or two and the ancient bee hive houses along the way.
If you plan to visit the Cliffs of Moher from Galway, you might have someone else do the driving. We drove that same route going to Galway and were happy to be on the side of the road away from the steep drop offs, having arrived at the cliffs coming from the south.
However you go, however you travel through it, don’t miss a trip to Ireland in all its green lusciousness and with its extremely friendly people, the friendliest I’ve ever encountered in my travels. Whether you drive yourself or let someone else do it for you, visiting the country will definitely be worth your while.