Driving in Ireland is not for the faint of heart. For that matter, riding in cars is not for the faint hearted either. First of all, you drive on the left side of the road, the opposite of what we do in the U.S. The driver’s seat is on the right side of the car. The stick shift is to the left of the driver’s seat so you have to shift with your left hand but the shift pattern is the same as when you drive on the right. The foot pedals are also set up as they are at home so the gas pedal is on the right, the brake in the middle, and the clutch on the left. Are you totally confused yet? After an early morning flight out of Des Moines, Iowa, and an overnight flight to Dublin, Ireland, we were.
We left the airport in Dublin around 6 am on a Sunday morning to drive to our nearby hotel. It was a perfect time to get accustomed to the car while driving on the left because there was very little traffic although it was still dark and there was somewhat of a drizzle. Every block or two found us at a roundabout which the U.S. has recently caught on to so we weren’t totally outside our comfort zone except that, of course, you go to the left rather than the right in Ireland. Fortunately, we arrived at our hotel without mishap and the car sat in the parking lot for the next two days while we visited Dublin.
It was when we left Dublin that the fun began. Jim drove and Brian navigated while Abi and I sat in the backseat of our Renault Captur. Although billed as a compact, it seemed almost mid-sized, especially on narrow roads with “bends ahead” as the signs say in Ireland.
The best feature of the car was the wifi. What an amazing invention! Ten years ago map reading, lack of detail on the map, and too few road signs to forewarn us of upcoming turns were among our biggest challenges. With wifi those issues were pretty much eliminated with Siri providing voice direction while the gps map application showed our route at all times. And you know how you get into Internet dead spots in the U.S. at the most inopportune time? That happened rarely in even the most remote areas of Ireland. As long as we had previously mapped it, the gps continued to function.
Through Cashel, Cahir, and Cork, Jim managed fairly well. When we got close to Kinsale, however, the road got narrower, more winding, and the hedgerows were closer to the side of the road. There was a center line only to give you a false sense of security thinking there were two lanes. It’s really one lane with a line in the middle of it.
That was nothing, however, compared to the next morning. Barry, our walking-tour guide, strongly recommended we drive up to the Charles Fort for a view of the harbor so I, of course, was adamant that we go. That was when the trouble began. The road was narrow, winding, uphill, with cars parked willynilly on either side providing one too many obstacles for Jim. Trying to avoid an oncoming car, we went over a stone step jutting into the roadway and the dashboard said STOP. We couldn’t just stop in the middle of the road and had to continue briefly to get out of the way. As we pulled into a parking spot at the fort, we felt the tire deflate and the dashboard read PUNCTURE.
While we had wifi in the car, we didn’t have phone service. Abi said the people in the vehicle next to us had uniforms and maybe they had a phone. I went over and asked if they were law enforcement, to which they responded, “Customs.” I explained our predicament, they loaned us a phone, Jim called the car rental who said get it fixed and bring the bill for reimbursement. Thank goodness we had added the extra tire coverage at the last minute!
And then, the most remarkable thing happened. The customs agents insisted they change the tire for us.
The Irish are the finest, kindest people in the world and, in our experience, the customs agents are topnotch among the Irish. When they finished, they directed us to the nearest tyre shop to get the tire fixed. Luckily, the tyre shop got us right in and although the tire couldn’t be repaired and had to be replaced, we got a new one immediately and we were soon on our way. The visit with the proprietor, Dan Dempsey, while he worked was lively and entertaining, too.
We had a brief discussion at this point about whether Brian should take over the driving. Since we had managed pretty well with Jim driving and Brian navigating, in spite of the flat tire, the men decided to continue that plan for the moment.
The following day, however, on the Ring of Kerry, it was time for Brian to get a taste of the driving experience in Ireland. We left Glenbeigh by 9 am to stay ahead of the tour buses and drove counter clock-wise around the Ring. Rick Steves advises that you go the opposite way toward the tour buses but we were glad we didn’t follow his advice in this instance. Meeting a bus on these roads is a terrifying experience and if you can avoid it, by all means, do. The best part was when we got to the one lane roads off the Ring that the buses couldn’t get to.
The views were definitely worth the effort. You can’t get these views from a tour bus because they can’t get here.
There were plenty of other obstacles on the road to avoid. This view of hay being unloaded while traffic waited was a first for us.
Sheep grazing on the side of the road was not unusual but it was somewhat disconcerting. They must know to avoid traffic because we saw no dead sheep.
We also encountered many bicyclists throughout the Ring of Kerry and the Dingle Penninsula. I asked a local whether there were many accidents and he assured me that no one had ever been killed, mostly because the traffic moves pretty slowly. The only fatalities he cited were deer that bounded onto the road unexpectedly.
On our way to Tarbert from Dingle, we encountered runners on the road in a local race and then the Tidy Town Clean Up Days crews picking up litter along the roadways. When you add in the ever present tour buses and an occasional tractor, it seemed as if driving on these roads was more like an obstacle course than anything else.
I will add that the motorways in Ireland are four lane like our interstates in the U.S. and they are wide and pleasant to navigate. We just didn’t travel on them much as our trip was more rural and along the Wild Atlantic Way.
We survived the challenge of driving on many different roadways throughout the country and if you take it easy, I’m sure you’ll survive the experience, too. And it’s so worth it. But get the full coverage insurance and the extra tire coverage.
Based on travel in April, 2015