Driving in Ireland – A Road Trip to the Western Edge of Europe

by Chris Christensen  Add comments
categories: europe travel
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I lost Kevin, the other driver, at the first roundabout. We had only taken 3 turns from where we picked up our 2 rental cars when he could not get over into the left lane of the roundabout and had to go around again. While we had worried about driving on the left, and shifting with our left hand we thought we would do better about following one another. Not an auspicious start to a driving tour of Ireland.

Cliffs of Moher, Ireland

Cliffs of Moher, Ireland

CarRentals.co.uk was kind enough to let us use not one but two cars to hold the eight of us traveling together. We had to pay for the collision damage waiver which is required in Ireland. I had expected that my credit card would cover that but apparently Visa wants no part of collision insurance in Ireland, Israel or Jamaica.

We had done some things right:

  • Both cars had a navigator
  • Both cars had a device with a GPS
  • Both cars had directions to our first hotel
  • We had walkie-talkies which would keep us in contact as long as we stayed within a mile or so of each other
Kilkenny, Ireland

Kilkenny, Ireland

Kilkenny

Kevin sped up and I slowed down so he could catch up. That should have worked but we apparently didn’t see each other as he sped by me so we quickly lost contact on the walkies. For the next hour or so I kept driving slow wondering why he must be driving so slow that he didn’t catch up. Meanwhile he was speeding down the motorway wondering why I was driving so fast so that he didn’t catch up. We both made it to the B&B in Kilkenny. They got there half an hour before we did.

Kilkenny was our first stop. It is less than an hour and a half from the Dublin airport. While I had flown in a day early and was rested, Kevin was getting right off a flight from California. I recommend the former as a strategy. We took the last walking tour of the day from the Visitor’s center through the streets that still preserve a number of the medieval buildings, stopping at Kyteler’s Inn for dinner while locals watched the big championship hurling game.

Rock of Cashel, Ireland

Rock of Cashel, Ireland

Cashel

Our next stop was the Rock of Cashel which is the ruins of a fortress and cathedral on a large defensible limestone outcropping above the town of Cashel. Just driving up to the site led to exclamations of “wow”.  One of the advantages of getting your own car is that you don’t have to arrive at the same time as all the other tourists in their tour bus. Our first half hour at the Rock was much less crowded than after all the buses pulled up. We explored the area for a few hours and even walked to the nearby ruins of a Cistercian Monastery.

Our host at the B&B the night before had recommended one of 3 routes from Cashel to Dingle that she said was “scenic”. I found that a bit amusing as every road we traveled in Ireland, at least once we were in the countryside, was scenic. We did have rain off and on because there is a cost for all that green.

Chris outside an Iron Age Ring Fort, Dingle Peninsula, Ireland

Chris outside an Iron Age Ring Fort, Dingle Peninsula, Ireland

Dingle Peninsula

One of our goals for driving to the west was the drive around the Dingle peninsula to see old ring forts and churches from medieval Ireland as well as signs of habitation going back thousands of years. We also walked to the west edge of Europe at the end of the peninsula. The next parish from here is Boston. Even if you are only walking a quarter of a mile to one of the many ruins or to the famine huts always take a raincoat or an umbrella as this area gets 100 inches of rain a year.

The motorways in Ireland have a fairly consistent labeling system. Most roads between towns are designated with a letter. The closer the letter is to the letter A the easier the drive. The M routes are the motorways or highways. They have 4 lanes with limited access and rival the roads we have seen anywhere else. The N routes are more local arteries. They tend to be 2 lane roads with lights and lots of traffic circles. There is generally plenty of room to pass oncoming traffic. The R routes get a bit more challenging. There is often a wall of rock or shrubbery on your left and passing oncoming traffic at some points will help explain to you why Ireland is a very religious nation. I swear on the Dingle peninsula we must have driven a few “Z” routes where someone could lean out both sides of the car and touch the hedges. These are the sort of roads that probably led Visa to say not just “no” but “hell no” on the collision damage waiver issue for Ireland.

Cliffs of Moher, Ireland

Cliffs of Moher

We arrived at the Cliffs of Moher at night. I don’t really recommend driving these rural country roads at night if you can avoid it. Night is a better time for sitting in the pubs listening to local music while you work on a pint. We didn’t not have any issues but the driving is more stressful at night when you know that a stone wall is two feet off your left.

The Cliffs of Moher are a spectacular site. Since you don’t have to keep bus schedules plan on an hour or two to explore in each direction from the main viewing area. I would not recommend you tempte gravity as much as the folks did in this photograph however. The cliffs are not as stable as people think and a few people die each year from getting too close to the edge.

Poulnabrone dolmen portal tomb - The Burren, Ireland

Poulnabrone dolmen portal tomb – The Burren, Ireland

The Burren

Cromwell’s surveyor described the Burren this way: “There is not a tree to hang a man from, water to drown one in nor dirt to bury one in”. But this “barren” area boasts numerous ring forts as well as a portal tomb, Poulnabrone dolmen, that dates back to at least 2900 B.C. While not as barren as the southwest in the USA, the heart of the Burren is nearly solid rock broken up by channels cut by water every few inches which fill with grass.

Conclusion

We found the roads to be well marked, with a few exceptions, but a GPS and a navigator were very handy. Dueling GPS systems between the two cars led to occasional confusion and banter over the walkie-talkies. We learned to appreciate the value of a good traffic circle and loved the freedom and sense of adventure that driving on our own gave us. And, when we turned the car in with only a few scratches from roadside shrubbery, we heaved a sigh of relief.

 

 

by Chris Christensen

I am the host of the Amateur Traveler. The Amateur Traveler is an online travel show that focuses primarily on travel destinations and what are the best places to travel to. It includes both a weekly audio podcast, a video podcast, and a blog.

+Chris Christensen | @chris2x | facebook

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