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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