When I recently visited Ireland, I took on the bold task of renting a car and driving across the western countryside. Now, although that sounds crazy, those who know me well are not surprised I would consider doing something so “brave” (or stupid). After all, I was already traveling alone in a foreign country to begin with, so might as well really give me mum something solid to worry about.
I must say that aside from a few mishaps, I managed to survive and live to tell the tale. So, it’s in that spirit that I would like to share my experience with future newbie Irish drivers and offer a bit o’ wisdom:
1. Staying in the left lane is not as difficult as it sounds; making left turns and staying TOO far to the left is another issue. Just ask the guy of the parked jeep I scratched.
2. Sideview mirrors need to be re-categorized as weapons of mass destruction. See #1.
3. Purchasing extra insurance is ALWAYS a good idea. More so when you have no clue how to drive on the opposite side of the road without running over a curb and puncturing your tires. Also, see #1.
4. Roundabouts are the most evil road creations in the history of mankind. However, after complete your first 25, you can zip through them like a breeze.
5. Roads. Let me take you down the many types of roads you can encounter.
M: These are the bomb. Double lanes are divided and high speed. Highly recommended!
N: These are reasonably decent. They are wide enough for a few lanes, even for some passing without hitting the other side. Safe to travel.
R, B and Unmarked: NO. Do not pass go, do not collect $200. Run. Take an hour detour if you must to avoid these. Lanes are too tight or non-existent—as in, single lanes for two-way traffic with no (I mean, no) shoulder-like areas to safely pull over to let anyone pass. Not to mention, the 60 kmph speed limit that is allowed on these super small, winding curve roads. Imminent death likely. Also, subject to sheep crossing and death drops with no guard rails on either side. Use at your own peril.
6. Why? Why 60 kmph around sharp bends? How does this make any sense? Drive under the speed limit if you want to survive.
7. It’s opposite land – not only is right left for driving, but white and yellow lines are also inverse, making you think you can drive 2 lanes, but you’d really be driving on the wrong side of the road if you crossed over. Just do yourself a favor and stay to the left always.
8. GPS systems are relatively useless. They’ll get you close (if you can even find the address in it to begin with), but thank goodness for road signs to direct you.
9. Petrol (gas) stations are fill up then pay. They are apparently also a teenage hot spot for soft serve ice cream.
10. Parking is interesting; you can parallel park on either side of the road in any direction. Parking in a diagonal space is a whole new experience when coming from the right side.
11. Tractors and bicyclists can delay you worse than sheep in the road. I was pretty lucky to witness only a single sheep crossing (on yup, guessed it – a death drop B road). If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to pass a tractor or bike without getting killed by oncoming traffic. Otherwise, hope you’re not in a rush!
12. Here’s a handy trick for those single lane roads—keep your headlights on at all times so you can flash someone to let them know you are coming around the bend or up/down a hill. Even though they can’t possibly see you from around the bend.
13. When on a single lane road, one party must find a pullover spot then pray the other can pass without sideview mirrors kissing or taking a mailbox down.
14. The garda (police) in Ireland are much kinder than state troopers in the U.S. (No offense). “Well, technically it’s a crime, you know, but you’re grand. We’ll sort it out.” See #1. #truestory
15. Don’t listen to locals about their shortcuts—they’ll take you on those R or B roads and laugh at you gripping the steering wheel while screaming in absolute fear.
16. There are more cows than sheep, I swear—but luckily, they don’t seem to want to cross the road often, so that’s a good thing.
And that’s all the advice I have for first-timers on the Irish road at this time. May the road rise up to meet you without oncoming traffic, and may you not fall off a cliff.
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