We’ve traveled to quite a few far off places and we’ve driven in some fast paced cities, but neither compares to the craziness that is driving in Ireland. As an American, the one thing that you stress over for days before your trip is the fact that you’ll be driving on the wrong side of the road and on the wrong side of the car. Everything is literally the opposite of what has been engrained in you since you started driving at the age of 16. In fact, the first thing you will do is walk to the wrong side of the car to get in. You’ll do that several times throughout your trip, it’s just a habit that can’t be broken!
Our flight landed at the ripe hour of 5am. We had hoped to sleep on the airplane coming over, but it just didn’t happen. There was really no way that was going to happen, the time change was just too great and you can’t go to sleep with it’s really 6pm at home. Your body just won’t let you. So, we got our luggage and headed over to the Sixt car rental desk.
We caught the shuttle to the lot and got the keys to our car. We had a standard brown Toyota Corolla. It wasn’t quite as small as I thought it would be and the passenger side actually had ample legroom. The cars were so tightly parked that Troy had to pull out a bit so we could get our luggage in. The trunk was barely large enough for our two suitcases and duffle bag, but we made it.
Maps & GPS
I had pre-purchased Ireland and UK maps for our GPS before leaving the US and we pulled up the town where we would be staying. It was at this point that I realized that addresses do not really exist in Ireland. Everyone will tell you what street they are located on, but that’s about it. It’s not too bad in Dublin where there are addresses for some locations, but generally speaking, you get a street name and a town. If you’re staying in a B&B, be sure to get written directions from the town they are near because you won’t be able to set your GPS directly to them. Our Garmin didn’t even search the coordinates to locations correctly. I highly recommend getting a paper map to use along with your GPS and your smartphone GPS, sometimes your phone maps can also be used. If all else fails you can use the locator to make sure you’re going in the right direction. It certainly helps to have someone do the navigating so the driver can focus on driving!
Your First Day of Driving
Our first stop was Enniskerry and Powerscourt Estate and waterfall. Getting out of Dublin was crazy. The roads are narrow, people are weaving around parked cars and cyclists and you’re doing everything you can not to hit the cars on the left. It gets a bit more stressful when you hit the country roads as well for the first time and I suspect it’s even worse if you’re sleep deprived like we were.
The country roads around Enniskerry were nerve-racking for us. The parking in Enniskerry is even worse. The town is very hilly and if it’s been awhile since you’ve driven a stick shift, it can be even trickier. All I can say is that between the rock walls, the hedges and no shoulder, expect to scrape your tires a few times. Also, don’t expect to go the 100kpm speed limit. In fact, for the first few days, you probably won’t break 60kpm. This means that you should probably add 20-30 minutes to your driving time easily. If Google Maps says it should take you an hour, expect an hour and a half.
The “Right Lane” Habit
As the days went on, the driving got easier. I actually did a bit of driving myself around Killarney and Dingle. It’s certainly easier when you’ve had all of your sleep and a few days watching someone else drive! There are a few times that you have to be particularly careful though. When you’re driving in a parking lot, it’s very easy to fall into your “right lane” habit. It’s easy to do this when you first get in the car in the morning or when you’re the only one on the road too. The rental car had a sticker on the dashboard that reflected in the windshield and reminded you to stay to the left. Saying that, there were a few moments when habit took over and it was a bit of a panic when you saw an oncoming car!
Before you do anything – Think! In fact, on the Ring of Kerry, you’ll see signs on the side of the road that say “Think!” You really do have to walk through the steps. Left turn, make a sharp left and stay in your lane. Right turn – make a far right turn and don’t get in the right lane! Always take the roundabouts to the left. It’s also important to think when you’re making a right turn and pull into the right turn lane. Be sure you leave space to turn right and end up in the left lane rather than the right.
We never really ran into any livestock in the streets. We had a sheep take his time once crossing the street, but other than that we didn’t get caught in any herds crossing the road like they show in the movies. You will see plenty on the sides of the roads though, so just be aware. It’s always your fault if you hit a sheep!
One Lane Roads
There are times that you’ll find yourself on a one lane road. Most roads will have small pull offs for you. Just be courteous on these roads and you’ll do fine. Also be aware of the one lane bridges, you may even need to honk if you can’t see if there’s oncoming traffic. There’s certainly one such bridge on the way to Powerscourt waterfall.
The Motorway is Your Friend
At our first B&B, the owner suggested to stay off the motorways if you really want to get a scenic view. However, we found, that if you’re traveling a far distance, say Dublin to Killarney, the motorway is your friend. It makes the driving experience much easier and gives you time to get used to being on the “wrong side” of the road. The motorway is also the opposite of what you’re used to on American highways. The right lane is the fast lane and the left lane is the slow lane. Exits are always on the left. Plus, when you’re following other cars, it’s easy to fall into the flow of driving. Ireland is a beautiful country and you’ll see plenty of scenery from the motorway as well.
Take Your Time
After a couple of days, you’ll be fine. Just think through each turn and hug the right line. It might be scary at times, but the cars aren’t quite as close as you think they are!