Walking around towns more than once I have almost stepped out into oncoming traffic. Checking over my right shoulder to look for cars just isn’t second nature to me. But now driving……we haven’t come close to making a significant mistake.
Driving is Ireland is not nearly as hard as you might think. And for this trip, we even drove a manual transmission, so hitting the correct gear (in a six gear car) took a while to master. Nonetheless, it was worth ever lurch and stutter start. We got up close and personal to corners of Ireland no one in a tour bus gets to see.
The roads in Ireland are very well marked. Between a good road map and a GPS system on a phone, we manage both small obscure country lanes (too small to really call them roads) as well as the motor ways. Sometimes we had to round a round-about twice to find the right exit. Sometimes we drove a few dozen yards in the wrong direction before finding a place to turn around and correct course. The famous Wild Atlantic Way (which is really a collection of scenic routes and not just one road) are clearly marked with a wavy blue line. Signs are also color coded.
Outside of the cities traffic was light. And Irish drivers seem to generally be pretty polite and courteous. Don’t think we heard one horn honk in the three weeks we drove the Wild Atlantic Way. We deliberately hit the major tourist routes like the Shea Head Way as early as possible to avoid any busses or crowds.
You do have to learn some vocabulary. “Traffic calming” signs mean speed bumps ahead to slow traffic down. “Go Mall” we soon learned meant slow down in Gaelic. The warning sign alerting us to “Horse Boxes” stumped us for a few minutes until we realized it was a reference to horse trailers. While we had been warned sign on the Dingle Peninsula would all be in Gaelic, the reality is there were plenty of signs in English and route numbers are still just numerals.
Driving on the “wrong” side of the road does take a bit more vigilance. The navigator has to help the driver when making turns. We refer to a left turn, as a “near side turn,” keeping the passenger or navigator “in the ditch.” A right turn is across a lane of oncoming traffic — what we call a “far side turn,” again with the reminder to keep the navigator near the ditch. In many ways, driving is light traffic is easier, as the car in front of you is a constant reminder of where you should be.
The narrow country lanes, often just a bit more than a car width wide, are lined by what appear to be soft hedges of wild rhododendron or hardy fuchsia. In reality, those bushes hide the stone walls which would not be the least bit forgiving should you tap one.
And we did run into an occasional farm animal on the road, but not nearly as often as we did in Scotland or Sicily. And the occasional biker or walker and baby stroller. We hopped on a ferry to cross the River Shannon and found the system less complex than at home.
The only real excitement we had was when we chose to drive out of Dingle over Conner Pass. The sign as you begin the final three kilometer climb to the summit was intimidating — but also reassuring as we knew it meant we would not be dodging buses and big trucks.
Once at the summit, the views in both directions were stunning. The work of glaciers thousands of years ago to the north and the town of Dingle on the bay to the south. The drive down the north side was definitely one car at a time in places, with a sturdy rock retaining wall on the cliff side and clear visibility of the road ahead.
Bottom line? Driving in Ireland is not that big a deal. Enjoy the freedom of going where you want when you want. Relax. You really can’t get too lost — you’re on an island.