Driving on Irish Country Roads – with video

Have you mastered The Basics?  That’s grand, then, so.  Onward to country lanes:

First, disabuse yourself of the notion that you get to see the Irish countryside when you drive.  Make a rule that the driver looks at the road and the passenger gets to look out the side window if you want to avoid problems. But don’t worry, the passenger won’t see much either.  Irish country roads tend to be guarded by tall hedges, which the farmers typically use instead of fences.  And which are not see-through.

In the next picture, the thickish green brush curving up the hill is a tall hedge, with a smaller hedge to the right and the road in between.  Drivers here are lucky – they actually get to see to the right, provided they can dodge the potholes on the way up a 10% incline!

Once you know what to expect, prepare yourself mentally.  Some roads are fine, with a center line and all.  But don’t expect much of a shoulder on any small rural road, and while two cars can usually pass just fine, it won’t feel like it.  So be prepared to pull to the left while hitting the brakes.  You may slide against the hedge, but that’s why the side mirrors bump in.  And remember: if you can park a car in a narrow garage space, you can pass someone on the road as long as you’re going slow enough.

Speaking of going slow enough, don’t try to go the speed limit as you begin.  First, speeds are in kilometers, and it’s a little freaky to glance down and find you’re doing 80.  Second, cars will gather behind you, but if you keep an eye out for a driveway to pull over and let them pass, most of them are patient.

Some rural lanes, unfortunately, are two-way traffic, but only one lane wide.  That’s when you watch carefully for wide spots or driveways to pull out in, and either you or the oncoming car may have to back up so the other can pass.  But don’t think you’re on a rarely-traveled road just because one has grass down the middle – somehow you meet almost as many cars there as on one that’s full width!

Here’s a video with my two college-age sons going to visit a friend who lives back of beyond, and it shows!.  (They had been driving in Ireland for about six weeks.)

Other caveats about driving Irish country roads:

Be sure to have a GPS or very good directions, and a cell phone for backup. Roads are signposted in most cities, but most don’t even have names in the country.  You’re fine on the main roads like the N-71 or R-605, but the small roads are newly signposted (L4601) and no one knows them.  And keep a sharp eye out – your personal directions are likely to include “turn at the big tree,” “we’re two houses past the bright blue house,” or the ever present “turn at the pub.”  Or the one I got, “turn at the pile of rocks,” which was 12 inches high!

Livestock in the road isn’t just a cliche, it’s a real possibility.  If they’re changing fields, just stop and wait and they’ll pass you in a moment.  If you’re driving through their field, go slowly and take pictures!

Connemara in February

Be patient with livestock.

Yes, this really happens. And the b/w Friesan cattle are huge!

What’s next? Maybe Blarney Castle and kissing the Stone, or the Skellig Islands.  Or the Giant’s Causeway.  Bunratty Castle and Durty Nellie’s.  Or . . .


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12 Responses to Driving on Irish Country Roads – with video

  1. Pingback: Driving in Ireland: the Basics | Jennifer Jensen

  2. I will happily read as many posts on Ireland as you want to write. My husband and I hope to go there one day, and this was so much fun to read! Since I’m Canadian, I’m used to kilometers, but I had no idea that the scenery would likely be blocked by hedges (it almost makes it not worth driving yourself). Is it difficult for a tourist to get around in Ireland without a car?
    Marcy Kennedy recently posted..The Most Underestimated Key to Success from The MatrixMy Profile

    • Jennifer Jensen says:

      Hi, Marcy. Actually, there are a lot of places you can see the scenery, just not necessarily the small back roads. However, there are a lot of little pullouts used for passing cars that you can pull over and stand up and see!

      Ireland generally has a good bus system through the country and in the cities. If you’re in a small town it can be a little harder, but you can walk about anywhere. If you want out-of-the-way places, a car’s your best bet. And my relatives did just fine, so don’t worry!

    • Jennifer Jensen says:

      I should add that we got through our newbie days with the agreement that the passenger was allowed to say “too close!” (to the hedge) without the driver getting mad. After a week we were fine and actually started to relax. Still slowed and pulled over for oncoming cars, tho!

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      What she said! I’ve always wanted to go to Ireland – all parts. 🙂
      Jenny Hansen recently posted..Embrace Your Inner Doberman and Other Life Lessons from a Tiny Dog by Sonia G. MedeirosMy Profile

  3. Lynn Kelley says:

    Wow, that video is insane! I’m so glad you included it in your post. I think I need to check my BP after watching that! How nerve racking! This is so interesting. Who woulda thunk it would be so crazy driving the back roads in Ireland? And the nutty directions, a rock pile 12 inches high! LOL. What a fun post!

    • Jennifer Jensen says:

      Funny thing is that you just get used to it after a bit. To the point that visitors come and cringe while we drive. My mother first said to slow down so she could see things (I was doing 90K on a 100Kph highway). A month later when I was doing 100K, she commented that I *could* go a little faster!

      We’ve laughed (and cringed) over that video for several years now. It’s just taken me a while to get it off Tim’s computer and figure out how to post it. Glad you enjoyed it!

  4. This is awesome! I think some parts of the US are the same as you describe here, but it looks prettier in Ireland!
    Melinda VanLone recently posted..50/50 Update: Spider’s Bite and Morning GloryMy Profile

  5. Another great post Jennifer. Love all things Ireland!! 🙂
    Coleen Patrick recently posted..For the Love of Food and NostalgiaMy Profile

  6. Hi Jennifer, I love your blog! It is funny, the photos are great, and every word rings true. A couple of years ago I was helping a friend trace her roots in Donegal, and we had no idea how to find the tiny cottage we were staying at because the landlady wasn’t answering calls and we had no idea how far it was. We got to the town of Donegal and wandered into a hotel to ask for directions. Mr. Jimmy Feeley, the manager, sat us down, offered us coffee, made about three phone calls to this woman and finally got us a list of directions that was three pages long. He was such a dear man! The directions had local landmarks, rather than names, and he warned us about “The Road of the Twenty-Seven Bends.” It was another hour to get there, but we survived all 27 bends, and the 28th as well, which was a grateful bended knee to Irish hospitality and the kindness of Jimmy Feeley!
    P.S. Sign me up. I’m now a faithful follower of your blog.

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