Have you ever driven on the opposite side of the road? If so, whether it was left or right depending on your country of origin, you’ll relate to what I’m about to say. Upon getting in the rental car at Cork Airport I constantly reminded myself for at least the first 100km to stay on the left side of the road AND to go left at the roundabouts, of which there are many in Ireland. I also drove incredibly slow for the first couple of days and pulled off the road countless times to allow “the locals” or as I’ve come to call them “bats out of hell” to pass my tiny Nissan Micra.
While Ireland, for all intents and purposes, is a modern country, it’s roads still harken back to the days of the horse and wagon. What would pass for a one lane road in America is definitely a 2-way thoroughfare, to be sped down as quickly as possible. Beautiful hedges full of wildflowers such as fuschia, meadowsweet, and this cool little puff of a blue flower that I have yet to identify line the road, sometimes on both sides. There are hidden sticks and ditches and rocks and many small, but mighty car adversaries. This is why I recommend getting full coverage when renting a car in Ireland, but that is a discussion for another time.
I vocalize a lot when I drive in Ireland. Gasps and cries are quite common, especially during the beginning of a driving trip. The longer I drive, the more comfortable I get, so those cries turn into little mews of distress when passing a lorry (truck) on a tiny country lane. It also takes my spatial orientation time to adjust to the fact that the steering wheel and safety belt are on the other side of the car and my passenger side is now to my left. I noticed something this trip. At first I kept my tires towards the white line in the middle of the road. But often there was no white line! So I kept close to the middle anyway. As I increased my mileage it was like a switch was flipped and I began to trust my peripheral vision and found myself much closer to the hedge, giving those beasty vehicles and coaches the room they deserve.
Returning my car rental was a completely different story. Here’s what I noticed:
-I almost made it up to the speed limit! You know, it’s funny, I’d see a speed limit sign increase right as the road narrowed. Go figure. Average speed on small roads is about 100 kph (62mph).
-I passed cars and trucks! This is no small feat as getting a straightaway with good visibility is not common. It’s more of a recipe of hold your breath, pray, trust your intuition, look and go!
-I began to recognize the tourists. They often drive vehicles with D in the license plate (for Dublin) and can be seen, as I was, driving at a snails pace everywhere they go. I hope the next car I rent has C for Cork. I’d like that.
– I began to feel a sense of ease when getting in the car. I felt I could handle whatever the roads brought my way. I was tested coming out of Killarney National Park in County Kerry. This is a HUGE tourist area and giant coaches can be seen taking up precious space as they navigate a very small road. My first trip to Ireland I scratched our family rental car on this stretch. I was with my mom and cousin and as we rounded a blind bend with rocks sticking out from our side, a tour bus came around. Here was the scenario: Screams all around, a quick pull over to get out of overwhelm and scraaaatch on the side of the car. Not good. I navigated this road with no scratches and only small gasps of annoyance. Progress!
All of this said, driving around Ireland is a fabulous way to see hidden gems and get out of tourist traps. There are signs all over the country side pointing towards stone circles, old burial grounds, strange little museums, and artisan foods. It’s how I explored the Priest’s Leap, Borlin Valley and found Mannings Emporium, my new favorite place for coffee in West Cork. The challenges are well worth the rewards.
If you’re thinking how brave I am, a solo female traveler, driving alone in Ireland, know this:
I was scared, but did it anyway…
I suppose this is one of my gifts. I’m afraid to do a lot of things, but I don’t let it stop me. I urge you, if you have the desire, to give it a shot. Here’s a bit of advice from my friend Ger Kavanagh, Cork city born and bred:
When entering a roundabout with uncertainty about where your exit is, get in the interior lane and go around at least 3 times. Once to find your exit, twice to find your exit again, and 3rd times the charm, change lanes and take your exit!
Do you have any stories from driving abroad? Share in the comments below!