Friday, June 2, 2017

Important Tips on Driving Ireland's Wild Western Rural Roads (or...how to go from A to B without driving off a cliff)

Truly, Rural Ireland offers quite narrow
roads. Please believe me.
Photo copyright John Eagle.
Recently I had reason to run up to Shannon Airport to pick up a friend. When such opportunities arise I very much enjoy watching newly arrived visitors to these shores walk off various in-bound flights. Oh, the excitement as they steel themselves for a week or more of traipsing around the Irish countryside! And usually I can’t help but have a chat with my fellow countrymen and women as they ready themselves for just such an adventure.

My only concern is that along with jetlag and general distraction they’ll forget they’re now on Ireland’s wild West coast and instead think they may be in Peoria or some such place. So it was with an American couple I encountered at the Avis Rental counter.

Me: “So, where are you off to?”
Him: “We’re gonna take the car and jaunt down to Bantry. That’s in West Cork, right?”
Me: (nodding enthusiastically) “You’re going to love it! But do make sure you take your time. It’s a bit of a long drive from here.”
Her: “That can’t be right. It’s only that far on the map.” (Turning to Hubby): “What do you think Harry? Maybe three hours?”
Harry: “Ah, we’ll do it better than that. I’ll have you there for dinner!”
Me (with growing alarm): “Honestly, it’s going to take you much more time than you think. You’re driving a bit into no man’s land, you see. And you’ll be on narrow roads and driving on the left to boot. And the signage here can be a bit sparse. And you can’t always believe the Sat Nav....”
Harry: “Fella, stop right there. We’ve driven all over America and I’m sure I’ll manage. Isn’t that right, Sweetie?”

She smiled dismissively at my left shoulder then the two turned, grabbed keys from the amused agent, and sauntered off to find their car. I was certain they were doomed and uttered a quick prayer of safekeeping, hoping Harry and Sweetie wouldn’t get killed.

For you see, driving in Rural Ireland is a bit, well, different than driving almost anywhere else I’ve been. And while Ireland has drastically improved its road infrastructure since I first came here in 1982 (today we’ve vast Motorways connecting most corners of the country. Back then, when I was a young pup, we were forced to jiggle and jaggle across a patchwork of sometimes ill-kept roadways to get almost anywhere), driving in the West requires a bit of planning.  So may I offer some quick advice?

The Left, the Left, the Left!

It’s obvious when you arrive here and rent your first car that one of the first challenges is the car itself. The driver’s position is, of course, on the right hand side of the vehicle. So climb in and get settled. But before you start up and drive yourself into oblivion, you may also want to take a careful look around.

The rear-view mirror is on your left. The side mirror is on your right. These details may seem trivial, but if you’ve been driving for years and years back home in the States, then your entire being is used to those positions. In the event of a minor road skirmish, or should you become confused, lost, distracted or worse, you will automatically look to where you expect to find these handy mirrored devices. And instead, you’ll come up with only air. I know. I learned to drive in Chicago. Instinctual habits of the dangerous kind still happen to me all the time.

So get oriented within the car before you drive away.

Then – do please remember to drive on the left hand side of the road. You may say to yourself as you read this from the comfort of your easy chair, “Well of course I realise the Irish drive on the left hand side and why would this moron remind me of such details?” But trust me. Such an about-face requires constant attention.

As an example: many years ago my father – who as it happens is an airline pilot (now retired) and prides himself on navigational aptitude – came here for a visit. He’d rented a car, just as you might, and was in the Captain’s seat as we sped down some sort of roadway in some forgotten part of the country. We’d stopped for petrol, climbed back into the car, and as he started the engine I gently reminded my ‘right stuff’ father, “Dad, remember – it’s the left.”

“Yeah, yeah,” he groused. Then put the car in gear and entered traffic, and as he did so was distracted by a woman pushing a baby’s pram across the street, and successfully made his left turn and I watched horrified as he completed the turn – into the right hand lane.

“Oh shit!” he hissed because when finally getting his bearings Dad happened to notice a large semi-trailer heading straight for us. Dad swerved into the verge, we came to stop in a cloud of dust, and I peeled my hands from the dash board realising we’d passed close enough to the oncoming juggernaut that I saw the scared-shitless scowl of the Irish driver who looked as if he might die.   

As I say, do not take driving on the left lightly. Not even if you’re a Formula One racing car driver.

Ignore Speed Signs – They Can Be Hazardous to Your Health

Down here in West Cork I suspect local County Council workers – those intrepid men and women responsible for local road signage – have a wicked sense of humour. For you see they seem determined to entice visiting drivers with road sign advice that may lure you into grave danger.

An example: speed signs. Now do first remember that signs dedicated to controlling speed are numerated in Kilometres per Hour. If you want to know what any given speed is in MPH use a very simple formula: multiply by .6. So 50 KPH = 30 MPH, 70 KPH = 42 MPH, 100 KPH = 60 MPH, and so on. You may want to conduct these calculations now and again as you pass speed signs simply to recognise how fast you truly are going.

But back to the local Cork County Council and their determination to play funny games.The roads around here are rather...ah...twisty. They’re also narrow. Many have potholes large enough to destroy toughened suspension systems. And it rains quite a bit. Which means you want to take it easy.  I tend to ignore the speed signs and instead pace my speed to match local conditions.

You’d want to ignore the speed signs too and for good reason – many are designed to maim or kill you. Now and again I’ll see a 100 KPH (60 MPH) speed sign which happens to be placed directly before a blind twist in the road. And the twist happens to be a hairpin turn. Should one actually drive at 100 KPH and attempt the hairpin, one will probably drive straight off a cliff and into the Atlantic.

Therefore please take my advice. Believe rural speed signs only at your peril.

Give Way and Move Over

As mentioned above, the roads in rural Ireland can be rather narrow. While they are called two-way streets it is a fact that it’s nigh and impossible to drive two cars side by side at the same time down many of these roads.

Here, you learn to look and anticipate. For instance: I’ll be driving down the coastal road from Eyeries to the small local harbour of Balycrovane. I’ll keep my eyes glued on the distant road ahead. Should I notice an oncoming car, I’ll search for the nearest place to pull over because both of us won’t fit and someone has to get out of the way. Usually it’s me and I don’t mind at all.

So be aware and if you see a car coming toward you exercise courtesy and caution. Because if you don’t....

Last summer a friend of mine was driving his erstwhile pickup truck along the same road I mention above. He looked up and saw a car coming toward him. As it happened there was no place for him to pull over but he saw there was a lay-by which said oncoming car could easily turn into. Which, of course, means my friend expected the driver of that vehicle to exercise this easy logic in courtesy. Which, of course, he didn’t.

The driver of the approaching vehicle, a German tourist as it turned out, kept on coming. My friend slowed down but was damned if he was going to stop. They met nose to nose, right in the middle of the road. The lay-by was just behind the German’s car and within easy reach. But the German decided not to go there. Instead he hit his horn.

My friend, smiling at the visitor who he saw was growing red with rage, put his truck in park. He turned off the ignition. He got out a newspaper, put his feet up, and started reading. The German marched up and accused my friend of various unprintable things stated in a vile stilted tongue, but the intent was clear enough.

My friend rolled up the window and kept on reading.

When enough time elapsed the German climbed back in his car, backed up the few metres, and pulled in. My friend drove around him and on his way. No one was hurt but German / Irish foreign relations were set back at least 20 years.

Stay Safe

When you’re visiting Ireland do please remember to stay safe. Take your time. Remember you’re in a foreign country and things are a bit different over here. Drive carefully.
Or as an option? Get someone to do the driving for you.

But however you do it, enjoy your time here and the wonderful beauty that is rural Ireland.

Picture supplied by John Eagle.John is an amazingly talented local photographer and painter. For more samples of John’s work go to: http://johneaglephoto.com

Don’t want to drive yourself? Then why not consider hiring a coach to do the work for you? Local fella Tommy Hartnett can help: http://homepage.eircom.net/~thoshart64/



If this blog interests you and you want to learn more about Ireland why not consider purchasing A Survivor's Guide to Living in Ireland 2017 Edition. Are you thinking about living and working in Ireland? Would you like to move to Ireland? Do you want to know how to get an Irish work visa in this country? Do you need to know how Brexit and Trump policies may affect your plans? If so, consider purchasing the 2017 edition of A Survivor's Guide to Living in Ireland by Tom Richards. Now almost 90,000 words long, this book could make the perfect gift for  those interested in this wonderful country. Over 14,000 people have now learned how to live, laugh, and drink like the Irish by reading this Kindle ebook. I hope you enjoy, and my very best - Tom

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