There are bragging rights and then there are bragging rights. Some of the gold standards entail hiking the tallest peaks, sailing the seven seas, and running in the NYC marathon, but we enjoy the bragging right that brings out the most oohs and aahs! We brag that we drove in Ireland! We heard stories for years from friends and family who ventured to drive in Ireland. We listened to tales of high hedgerows, stone walls that line the roadways for miles, streets as narrow as a driveway, and waiting for herds of various animals to cross the road. However, the tales of woe still didn’t prepare us for the real thing!
On our first trip, after arriving at Shannon Airport, Kate immediately opened what she thought was the passenger door and looked very confused. She quickly ran around the car leaving Mike behind the steering wheel. He found himself driving on the left side of the road for the very first time, in a rental car, having to manipulate the stick shift with his left hand. We were off for what we thought would be a one-hour drive to Doolin, in County Clare.
Kate, for her part, had worked tirelessly for weeks plotting the trip, pulling off detailed maps, and putting them neatly in a notebook. Leaving Shannon Airport that morning, we were met with one daunting roundabout after another in very rapid fire. Yes, we have “some” roundabouts in the U.S., but not with five exits and two lanes! Our directions said take M18, but little did we know that M18 and N18 are one and the same.
As we approached a critical roundabout, Mike’s heart was racing and his voice rising as he yelled, “What way do we go? Which way Kate?” As you may have guessed, we ended up on N18 headed in the wrong direction. That was the last straw for navigator Kate who in a moment of panic threw our road maps into the back seat. It was only 6:00 a.m. and Kate hadn’t slept in nearly 20 hours. It’s called jet lag! We ended up in a factory parking lot where we managed to regroup.
One critical tip for a first-time driver in the Emerald Isle is, “Don’t give up your side of the road!” The Irish drivers seem to have developed an innate ability to claim at least half of the road and even seem to enjoy playing “chicken” when it comes to the center of the road. Hang in there! You will get use to passing cars coming at you so closely that you can tell the color of the other driver’s eyes. It’s far less scary than having your front seat passenger screaming because you are inches away from the overgrown stone wall to your left. We know this because on our way to Doolin driver Mike came “a wee bit” to close to a hedgerow where we parted company with our side view mirror.
So much for the nightmare part of our story. Why is driving in Ireland an American’s dream? Let us count the ways. You can venture to so very many enchanting places (e.g. the Berea and Sheep’s Head Peninsulas) where tour buses aren’t allowed, and Ireland’s back roads lead to a myriad of incredible historic sites and hidden treasures such as stone circles, dolmens and famine burial grounds.
We almost forgot, Ireland’s country roads allow you to meet and greet first hand domestic animals and wildlife. Stopping to allow dairy cows, beef cattle, free range sheep and even pheasants cross the narrow lane in front of you is an absolute treat! Most importantly, you get to meet so many friendly and welcoming Irish people who live and work in out of the way places not typically associated with tourism.
After five trips to Ireland, we offer several advance planning tips:
1. Take the excess rental car insurance that covers glass, side view mirrors and tires with no more than $100 deductible.
2. Go on YouTube and view the free video lessons on driving in Ireland.
3. Use Google Maps to plan your routes ahead of time.
4. Study the myriad of road signs you will encounter that are unique to Ireland.
5. Absolutely make sure you know if your rental car uses diesel fuel or gasoline!
Then buckle up your seat belts, say a prayer to St. Patrick, and be off for the adventure of your life!
* Kate and Mike Lancor live in Moultonborough, NH and enjoy “chasing” their own ancestors as well as helping others “chase” their ancestors. They run a genealogy search business and can be reached by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or on their Old Friends Genealogy Facebook page. They have traveled to Ireland five times and especially enjoy “chasing” Irish ancestors for their clients.