Western Ireland: Don’t Drive

On the drive along Ireland's western coast (from a relatively safe vantage point).
  • On the drive along Ireland's western coast (from a relatively safe vantage point).

After planning a mother-daughter trip to western Ireland, we agreed that we would drive from one city to the next. Or rather: I would drive. My mother, nervous enough driving in America, wasn't one to brave the roads of the Emerald Isle. But I was up for it...or so I thought.

It wasn't that I had to drive on the left side of the road. Or that I was maneuvering from the right side of the vehicle. It was terrifying how narrow the roads were, and how, in an effort to pull over to make room for an oncoming car, you'd practically scrape the paint of your rental with the 2,000-year-old rock wall to your left.

When a giant tour bus is hurtling across a bridge meant for a bicycle? Stay clear!

And the GPS! Called "sat nav" by the Irish, it was of little help to us for the majority of the trip. Rather than let me know I took the wrong road, "she" (the British voice imposing her will on us) would simply and quietly recalculate my journey. So that a journey from Cork to Dingle, which should have taken no more than three hours, took six. Six!

Ready to abandon technology, I started asking directions from locals. Big mistake. There are no addresses on streets; you simply have to know the street and find the exact locale yourself.

"Go down a bit on this road, then turn left by the bank. Once yer at the bank, go on to Paddy's bar – well, it used to be Paddy's. Now it's Smith's, I think. At any rate, turn right by the pub. Then you'll almost be there!"

First of all, telling anyone to "turn by the pub" is dangerous, because there are so many! And second, Irish folk seem reluctant to give you a full set of directions. Instead, they get you halfway there, requiring you to ask another stranger for help.

It may have taken a few hours longer than it should, but it was worth it. When I could peel my eyes off the road, I saw such scenery, it took my breath away. The many shades of green, the sheep rollicking in the fields, the ancient remains of castles...it truly is a magical place.

Just don't drive!

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Having recently returned from a trip to Ireland, I can empathize with your feelings on this topic. Driving was nerve wracking at times on those narrow roads, especially the first few hours when I was just getting adjusted. I had heard so many tales of cars scraped up against hedges and stone walls that I got the Super CDW coverage for (at least some) peace of mind. I would recommend this for anyone renting a car over there. Your regular car insurance will most likely not cover you.

Watch out for blind intersections and stop signs obstructed by trees or hedges. I nearly had a collision coming out of Kilkenny on a detour. The intersection was blocked by a hedge and a car speeding by almost hit me. When I told this story to a friend he said the same thing happened to him. Once I got used to it, though, driving wasn't so bad, especially out in the countryside where there's hardly any traffic. I actually came to prefer the roundabouts to our intersections here.

I found the GPS to be extremely helpful (although the "recalculating" became annoying when I took a different route than what my GPS friend desired). I would have become hopelessly lost without it.

Ultimately, I'm glad I rented a car because I saw amazing stretches of scenery I would have missed had I opted for the bus or train. Slea Head Drive in Dingle was especially spectacular.

I think it's an individual decision whether to drive or not to drive, but anyone heading over there should be aware of the challenges.

Thanks DerekRay. It was worth the stress, for sure, but I wouldn't do it again if I could help it. I loved Dingle too!

2 Points about using GPS navigation devices in Ireland.

  1. GPS works the same as it does in USA but the road mapping you are using must be up to date as very significant road construction has taken place over the last number of years. If you do not update then the satnav will guide you long routes. The best mapping for Ireland is also Navteq - so look out for products that use it

  2. Irish addresses are not precise. This means that when you enter an address into a Navigational devise there may be many options for the satnav to bring you to and even then it may bring you to an area rather than the correct destination. To improve this, Loc8 Codes have been introduced as a modern form of postcode created by property owners themselves. There is a serach for accommodation Loc8 Codes here: http://www.loc8code.com. Many tourists attractions have them on their websites. Just eneter the Loc8 Code in to your navigation device - they are supported by Garmin and an app called point8 working with Garmin, TomTom, Navigon and others. It makes find places in Ireland much easier!

Anybody from the US who does the driving in Ireland will never have the pleasure of seeing the beautiful countryside. I would hire a driver or take a bus. There are ditches close on both sides of the narrow lanes, or towering fuschia hedges and beautiful stone walls which prevent any kind of visibility or distracted attention. Never mind scraping the car: you could get yourself killed. Then again, you would've died in Ireland, and there are worse fates.

I disagree with some of these comments. My husband and I were just there in May. We rented a house for two weeks in Dingle. Great town with beautiful scenery. I suppose it might help if you've driven in a foreign country before..opposite side of road, opposite side of car. My husband has, and I haven't. Once I got used to being on the 'wrong' side, I was fine. We ventured all over the Dingle Peninsula and throughout the Ring of Kerry. I'm a photographer so I don't really consider getting in a bus "exploring". My bothers, at the same time, were doing an Ireland tour as well. They rented a car and explored 70% of the country...free to see all the ruins and castles, off the beaten path, to their heart's content. I suppose experience with dangerous roads in Baja Mexico (un-paved, gravel, washboard, narrow and on steep hillsides) helped curb any fear we may have had in Ireland.

If we hadn't driven, we wouldn't have seen nearly half of the beauty we saw. Not being in a bus we weren't limited to where we stopped. We also didn't look as tourist-y, by trying to blend in with local traffic. I wouldn't have done it any other way.

Here are just a few shots from our trip: http://maggiemarsek.com/home/2012/07/film-ireland-b-w/

We went to Ireland in 2000. We began our drive from Shannon Airport and a local told us to take Connor's Pass...whew! When we finally reached our destination in Tralee, the B&B Proprietor could not believe we drove through the narrow paths up high in the mountains. How would we have known that this was a dangerous route to travel? The views were amazing so I guess the harrowing death trap of a road was worth it. The following day, we drove to Dingle. We decided to hire someone to drive us along the Peninsula so we can enjoy the view. I had my Rick Steves guidebook so I told the driver when to stop and read every information I had about the points out loud. We drove to Ring of Kerry, Kilarney, Cork, Kilkenny and to Dublin. We made up our own schedule and stopped whenever we wanted to. The roads were horrible back then...unpaved and very narrow. We didn't have a GPS and we relied on our trusty Michelin map. Somehow we made it to our destinations. Fast forward to 2006 when we returned to Ireland with our three young sons. This time the roads were phenomenal. Thanks to the EU, they were nicely paved and it took us half the time to get to our destination than it did in 2000. Again, no GPS but a newer version of a Michelin map. That's what traveling is all about...the adventure and thrill of the unknown...and meeting the locals!


by k9murph

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