Is driving in Ireland as terrifying as people say?
August 25, 2008 7:29 AM   Subscribe

I'm having a last minute panic attack about the travel arrangements for my trip to Ireland and I leave tonight. Should I have stuck to the bus/train?

So I'm going for 12 days, departing tonight, and I decided to rent a car to allow me a bit more freedom. However I started reading horror stories about driving in Ireland, and also more generally about North Americans adapting to driving on the left side of the road. Is there validity to this? Should I be concerned? Should I try and cancel my rental and go the bus/train route again?

Here's my itinerary in case anyone has any specific advice for driving these routes (each point is a stop of at least one full day):

- Dublin to Westport
- Westport to Ennis
- Ennis to Killarney
- Killarney to Kinsale
- Kinsale to Kilkenny
- Kilkenny to Dublin

posted by saraswati to Travel & Transportation around Ireland (24 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I just did a car rental trip around Ireland in May with some folks, and I did all the driving. It's really not that bad, the only time you get confused is usually the first turn you make when you get in the car in the morning. Once you get that "woops, wrong side" you usually get it for the rest of the day. Oh, and after filling up the gas tank, I sometimes went to enter the car on the wrong side as well, but that's minor. Some suggestions that might help are:

Drive slowly, even if someone is riding your ass, just pull over a bit and slow down even more to let them pass you

Make one long trip during a day of driving, rather than many smaller trips

Plan your route before you start driving, so you don't have to check maps while driving or anything (or have a good navigator!)

Drink plenty of coffee to make sure you are alert at all times (though this was less of a problem since the roads are kind of narrow and windy so you won't really suffer from highway hypnosis like on the big straight highways in north america)

Oh, and one more thing that might help, I rented my car in Northern Ireland using my Amex (which has car insurance so I didn't have to buy the extra, which I otherwise would have since I was a bit worried about the wrong side of the road thing). I ended up getting scratched up a bit when parked overnight, and the insurance from the amex took care of it, but in that process I found out that had I rented the car in Ireland (instead of Northern Ireland), I would NOT have been covered by Amex! So if you're doing something similar with your credit card, make sure you are covered in the country you are renting from! Good luck, and enjoy the trip, we had an awesome time!
posted by Grither at 7:42 AM on August 25, 2008

Speaking of rental insurance, I highly recommend either making sure you are covered from your CC, or just buying it at the rental place if not, just for simple peace of mind on your trip. If you have the bad luck of getting hit or denting the car, or scratching it or whatever, you will not have to worry about that scratch/dent/mishap for the rest of the trip since you know you'll be covered for it.
posted by Grither at 7:45 AM on August 25, 2008

And one more thing, check out my question pre-trip, it might help.

(The burren and the knowth were both incredible sites to see)
posted by Grither at 7:49 AM on August 25, 2008

I was scared as well and I was amazed that I adapted immediately. I drove two hours from Shannon to Killarney (after not sleeping on an overnight flight from Boston) and never once had trouble. Literally right out of the parking lot it was felt normal. The only time it screwed me up was, every time I went to use the turn signal I’d accidentally put the wipers on. When I got back home after ten days I did the exact same thing.

I did pay extra for an automatic, which I’m sure made adapting a bit easier.

Harder than dealing with being on the “wrong” side is dealing with the narrow roads, most of which have ancient stone walls where the shoulder would be in America. The best way to deal with it is to take it slow, pull over if you need to. Fortunately most of the cars there are small. You’re not going to have Joe Sixpack cutting you off in his Suburban.

If you do any scenic loop drives (such as the Ring of Kerry), find out from the locals which way the busses make the trip, clockwise or CCW. Then you can decide if you want to face oncoming busses or if you want to deal with getting stuck behind a bus or having a bus ride your ass. Personally, I’d rather be going the same way as the busses.

It was all really much less of a big deal than I expected. I can be a neurotic driver sometimes and I did fine. So will you.
posted by bondcliff at 7:52 AM on August 25, 2008

Horror stories about driving in Ireland?

Well, I'm Irish (though I now live in Australia), so at least my opinions are based on fact and experience.

1) Irish roads are, in general, much smaller (ie, not as wide) as American roads. Irish drivers do not, however, drive particularly slowly.

2) In the countryside, the roads are considerably smaller, especially off the main routes. You'll get used to it. Just don't drive at the maximum speed limit all the time.

3) Cliched as it may sound, on country roads at least, you may indeed come across a bunch of sheep or cows. If you're on a small and winding country road, drive carefully and considerately.

4) Having said all the above, Ireland has invested hundreds of milllions (if not billions) of Euro in the past decade on infrastruture and major road works. Driving from Dublin to Westport, for example, will mean you will enjoy good quality roads; especially the Dublin to Galway leg (if you go that way).

5) Westport is in Mayo, a relatively backwater. Roads will be small, winding and the scenary spectacular.

6) Stop and talk. Another cliché, but the Irish are friendly and like to chat; especially in the pubs.

7) Don't drink and drive. It's not cool and is very frowned upon in Ireland.

8) The West of Ireland is pretty. You will enjoy it.

9) The Irish rail system sucks. You are making the right choice in driving. Bus services are pretty shitty too.

10) Kinsale has some of Europe's best restaurants. Unless you have more money than sense though, avoid them and enjoy the smaller, more economical yet friendly local eateries.

11) Please, for the love of Sweet Jesus, have a pint of plain for me in Dublin. I miss it so much...

Tell them de brudder sent ye...
posted by Mephisto at 7:52 AM on August 25, 2008 [4 favorites]

Don't second guess yourself. You made your decisions when you had plenty of time to think about them logically, then came to the conclusions you did. Your anxiety today is likely just related to the unknowns you face in the coming weeks. Sure there will be a few mishaps, that is only natural, but look forward to the trip, rather than backward to your decisions. Oh, and have a great time! You deserve it.
posted by netbros at 7:52 AM on August 25, 2008

If it helps...I used to work for a travel guide company; almost all our routes were bus and rail routes. Ireland, Australia, and the US were driving routes. I never worked on the Ireland title and have no idea why Ireland was a driving route, but the company was really cheap, so there must have been a damn good reason for it. Anyway, none of our researchers seemed to have a problem.
posted by phoenixy at 8:22 AM on August 25, 2008

Plenty of good advice above - I just echo it here, based on my driving holiday of some years ago.

The roads aren't terrible, just narrower and sometimes in a bit poorer condition than you expect. Go slow, and expect it to take much longer to get anywhere than you would think. Take your time.

As Mephisto said, the Irish love to talk. It's like a Blarney theme park. Stop, chat and ask them about road conditions and directions ahead. They won't be able to do enough for you.

As for driving on the other side of the road - it used to fill me with horror until I actually did it. Sitting on the other side of the car is big mental queue about driving on the other side. Also, when you're driving you mostly are following cars in front, which keeps you in the correct place. So the time you really have to watch out is pulling out on the road for the first time in the day, and when you're alone on the road.
posted by outlier at 8:24 AM on August 25, 2008

Put a BIG sticky note on the steering wheel that says "LOOK RIGHT". We're all used to casually peering to left to see if there's any oncoming traffic before we pull out. This was invaluable last time I drove over there.
posted by Aquaman at 8:38 AM on August 25, 2008

Yes, as said above, watch out for sheep around the bend.

Don't get ruffled by locals in the country. They tend to pass you at alarming rates on very inadvisable sections of road.

The tall hedges can be intimidating, as they are VERY close to the tendency to drift too far centre to compensate for being on the "wrong" side of the car.

Dublin City Centre can get confusing, as there are TONS of one-way streets and completey nonsensical, circular routes to get where you need to be.

Street signage is poor. Instead of having street signs on easy-to-see poles on each corner, they are high up on buildings or on walls at crossroads, when they're there at all.

But the scenery is lovely :) Enjoy!
posted by InfinateJane at 8:49 AM on August 25, 2008

You'll adapt. Unless you're already a terribly anxious driver, I wouldn't worry.

The scariest part for me was that the first place we drove, from the airport, was Dublin, so this was my first time driving on the left, and we had no idea where we were going (we had maps, but not very good ones, and the city was unfamiliar), and what nobody previously told us was that the street names tend to change every block. We drove around for a half hour screaming about "I SWEAR WE WERE JUST ON EWE STREET AND NOW WE'RE ON LAMB'S WAY", craning our necks around trying to spot each and every street sign, and trying to remember to drive on the left and look right.

So, that was a good way to get broken in, actually. After that it was easy cheesy.

Driving in rural areas was twenty times easier, just because there's so much less going on. But still be alert.
posted by iguanapolitico at 8:53 AM on August 25, 2008

You'll be fine, although I second Infinate Jane's comment on the terrible signage. The roads from Dublin-Westport improve as you head west, so by the time you've cleared Dublin, you'll have had your baptism of fire and will only have to think hard about the side of the road every time you pull out, or when you're entering roundabouts.

The Killarney-Kinsale parts might well involve narrow routes where you're stuck behind tour buses. As with everywhere, if in doubt, be patient and slow, and it'll be fine.

Have you seen the AA Route Planner? It's very handy, if you don't have your routes already.

Have a great time! Also:

As Mephisto said, the Irish love to talk. It's like a Blarney theme park. Stop, chat and ask them about road conditions and directions ahead. They won't be able to do enough for you.

Seriously? There's a whole spectrum of rude to friendly, like every country. 'The Irish' vary and it's a mistake to generalise. I am wishing fervently that I never see the phrase 'Blarney theme park' used like that again, 'cos the hair on the back of my neck is standing up now.
posted by carbide at 9:00 AM on August 25, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks, all. I'll have a GPS unit with my rental so I'm not too worried about the signage but I'll keep that in mind. Happy to hear that the conditions aren't as bad as they seemed though!
posted by saraswati at 9:11 AM on August 25, 2008

I was petrified of driving on the left my first time in New Zealand; so much so I considered going home early. It took all of 10 minutes to adapt. But try to start slow those first ten minutes on quiet streets without traffic.
posted by Nelson at 9:35 AM on August 25, 2008

My inlaws got in several minor accidents (dings, really) but considering how awful a driver my father-in-law really is, it must not be too hard.
posted by sondrialiac at 10:14 AM on August 25, 2008

I have been driven in Ireland five times (one week trips) and I 100% suggest driving vs. using public transportation there. it gives you the freedom to explore "off the beaten path" roads, on your own schedule. Trains and buses in Ireland are marginally reliable, and the pros of renting a car outweigh the temporary disorientation of driving on the other side of the road. On that note...It doesn't take too long to get the hang of Irish driving. In my experiences, the Irish are less concerned with speeding around you when you go too slow, so there isn't a lot of pressure (i.e. no people honking as you try to figure out where to turn, etc.). In other words, the typical Irish driver tends to be more patient thatn the typical American driver. Keep this in mind- on some of more rural roads, the posted speed limit is 100km an hour. You might think this is crazy and waaaaay too fast for those narrow roads (which it really is!). The problem is that the Irish are used to driving that fast on roads that they are so familiar with. So if you see someone inching up on your bumper (sometimes even flashing brights), simply pull over when you safely can so they can pass you (I know, driver's ed advice, but I just want to stress not to lose your cool, it can be daunting!). I'll echo what others have said here, and tell you that the Irish are so accomodating and helpful. We stopped and asked a farmer how to get somewhere- he wasn't sure so he went inside and called his brother-in-law. He then got into his car and led us all the way to the road we were looking for. I have a handful of other stories just as helpful and kind as that one. One more thing- sometimes they aren't so accurate with distances; a "bit" down the road may be 3km, likewise 3km could be 10! I know you said you have a GPS, but a good map is very valuable. I've used Irish Car Rentals and they have a decent map they give you if you ask for it. Don't let the stress of worrying about driving detract from your trip. Ireland is an amazing place! Good luck!
posted by muxnaw at 10:48 AM on August 25, 2008

Oh one more thing- I would seriously limit the amount of driving you do in Dublin. It is a nightmare driving through that city! We parked our car in a city lot near our hotel and walked the whole time we were in Dublin. It is a very walkable city, with a lot of interesting areas in close proximity to each other.
posted by muxnaw at 10:51 AM on August 25, 2008

Thanks, all. I'll have a GPS unit with my rental so I'm not too worried about the signage but I'll keep that in mind.

One thing to note with the GPS's in Ireland -- I found that the maps on mine (last February) didn't have all the latest and greatest roads. There were a few times that it told us to drive through cities/towns instead of taking this new, fancy, multilane, high-speed road that avoided them. And I definitely recommend avoiding in-city driving as best you can.

So, my point is while the gps is indispensable, make sure you have paper-based maps as well, and (as best you can) a general idea of where you're going.
posted by inigo2 at 10:59 AM on August 25, 2008

2nding inigo2. We had the same issue so bring a map. It isn't impossible and will make things much better.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:31 AM on August 25, 2008

I rented a car after a last-minute itinerary change on our last trip to Ireland, so I had no forewarning or planning at all. I adapted really quickly. It's a bit odd to get used to turning, but you'll adapt. We did get lost a bit in Dublin and I agree with the people who've said to just walk around in Dublin city and use the car to drive to other places. Bring a map as a backup for the gps unit and don't be afraid to ask people for directions.
posted by bedhead at 12:40 PM on August 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

Thirding inigo2. This is a time when you put your destination into your GPS and then ask the handiest Irish person if it is a good route. Ours took us down a one lane farm access road to get to Ashford, and then took us the wrong way down a one-way road in Cong. Not good.

Also, there is signage aplenty inside the cars, designed specifically for those of us who drive on the right - I couldn't look up or down without seeing a sign reminding me to "keep left!".

Good luck. And stay safe. Hit up Matt Malloy's in Westport; you won't be disappointed. And, if you see my cousin Louise out celebrating her 30th on Saturday, tell her I said hello!
posted by MeetMegan at 2:45 PM on August 25, 2008

You've gotten great advice so far. I just wanted to say that indeed, you'll be fine. Just stay relaxed and go a speed you're comfortable with. You will come upon some sheep in the road, a large tour bus will be coming toward you at some point on a very narrow street and you will get stuck behind a hay truck that you're too scared to pass. It will all be okay.

The one thing I kept doing was putting on the windshield wipers instead of my turn signals... which made me laugh ridiculously and almost drive off the road. Don't be dumb like me--figure that stuff out before you drive.

Since you're going from Clare to Kerry, check the map and see if the Killimer Tarbert ferry would be useful. I took it once when I went from Doolin to Killarney and it saved tons of time and was kind of fun. Enjoy yourself!
posted by jdl at 3:27 PM on August 25, 2008

Carbide said
There's a whole spectrum of rude to friendly, like every country. 'The Irish' vary and it's a mistake to generalise.

Of course it's a generalization. But one based on fact.

The Irish are, in general, a friendly people. I would have no problem stopping anywhere, even in the "roughest" parts of Dublin and asking directions. This is not something I would do in, say, Oakland...

Yes, there are shitheads in Ireland. Just like there are on the Internet.
posted by Mephisto at 7:31 PM on August 25, 2008

I would have no problem stopping anywhere, even in the "roughest" parts of Dublin and asking directions

I don't think you've been in the roughest parts of Dublin .... I wouldn't, and half of my family live there. Lots of tourists get hurt and robbed every year buying into the deedley-eidley theme park image of Ireland.
posted by jamesonandwater at 4:50 AM on August 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

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