My apologies to William Shakespeare who never had to make that decision.

When vacationing in Ireland is it best to hire a car, utilize public transportation or join an organized tour? The ability to come and go as you wish, avoid a strict itinerary and enjoy the sense of personal freedom makes hiring a car appeal to many people. Most Americans have been raised with a car available whenever they need it. Waiting at a bus stop, studying train schedules and having their personal transportation space invaded are not things many of them are used to. (I know, I know….some readers are used to commuting on the tube but we are talking about the majority here.)

Yes, it is absolutely wonderful to drive along the highways and byways of Ireland in a reliable car. One can stop at an interesting historic site, appealing sea food restaurant or scenic overlook on a whim. One can book accommodation on a daily basis or even just show up unannounced. (Do not rely on finding a place during July and August particularly in popular tourist places.)

Stopping on a whim is something tourists do on a far too regular basis. Beware of being rear-ended. Most of the local drivers are well aware of the beauty of their neighboring real estate but they have jobs to get to, kids to pick up and errands to run.

Then there is the security issue. Sadly, criminals do target tourists because they know their rental cars are loaded with desirable loot. It is not very easy to store everything out of sight in a compact. There are times when one has difficulty getting the suitcases in. If there are passengers everyone had best be traveling light. The parking lots of beaches, historic buildings and beauty spots are all places where your property is at risk. Do set the car alarm if it has one. As well as organized gangs that troll the popular spots there are the opportunistic thieves. It is difficult to know what advice to give. One option is to leave your valuables at your accommodation but that can have its risks. Anyway, that option is not available when traveling between accommodation places. The problem is particularly bad if, as I sometimes do, you camp. I would greatly appreciate the input of others on this subject.

There is no point complaining about the prolific use of roundabouts, narrow roads and driving on the left. These are facts of life and have to be dealt with. The roundabout is a wonderful invention. Just take time to study the rules on the internet or information available from the car hire firms or/and Irish tourist board. Place a prominent sticker on the windscreen reminding you to drive on the left. Keep reminding yourself you should be seated on the outside. Many roads are narrow but please learn how to judge your closeness to the road edge. It is not fair of safe to expect other road users to pull waaaay over to the left while you cavort along the middle of the highway. Ireland is a place where one should take pride on ones driving even if that phenomenon is fast going out of fashion.

It is no coincidence Ireland produces many top rally drivers. Most people tend to get on with the job. The curse of texting while driving has been adopted by many young drivers but it is illegal. Concentration is imperative. Park off the road when you wish to enjoy the scenery.

There are some things that are relatively easy to deal with. Avoid rush hour. The tourist brochures still indicate rush hour in Ireland means a lowing herd winding o’er the lea but the reality is somewhat different. Even rural roads have commuters rushing to and from their places of work. If you find yourself driving white-knuckled with pumped arms in heavy commuting traffic look for a restaurant to pull into. (Most bars serve food but to not even consider drinking and driving. That Irish habit has thankfully disappeared along with the Celtic Tiger and donkey and carts.)

If you are not used to a manual transmission (stick shift) your trip to Ireland is no place to learn. The extra cost of renting an automatic may well save you money in the long run. If you do your research well it may be possible to hire a car similar to what you drive at home. There is comfort in familiarity. If you insist on taking this to the ultimate conclusion you can program McDonnells, Subway, Best Western and Starbucks into your GPS device.

I realize I may come across as attempting to discourage you from driving in Ireland. I want your Irish vacation to be a pleasant experience. I recall the time I was riding my Honda CD175 motorcycle along a dual-carriageway (divided highway) on my way home from night shift to my apartment at Shannon New Town. I encountered a rental car heading south on the north-bound lane (mine). No amount of frantic arm waving or gesturing would convince the driver he was making a big faux pas. The car occupants politely returned my waves and probably thought those Irish people are really as friendly as we were told. Another time my wife and I encountered a couple of elderly tourists stopped on a busy roundabout. We quickly took them to where they wanted to go before someone ran into them. And us. There is a bend near my mother’s house where the traveler suddenly comes upon a panoramic view of Galway Bay, Black Head and Connemara in the distance. Oh yes, I almost forgot there is an ancient castle in the foreground. It is the scene of frequent rear-end accidents. I recall encountering a particularly arrogant group of tourists who had swung wide on a difficult uphill bend and ran into a local driver. (They seemed to be of the opinion he was in the wrong simply by being there.)

It often makes wonderful dinner-table conversation to tell about your near squeaks, narrow misses and lucky escapes. Sadly, many of the incidents end up with ambulances, hospitals and, occasionally, people returning home in a casket.

Views: 522

Tags: car, hospitality, tourism, tourists, transportation, travel

Comment by Bit Devine on June 12, 2014 at 5:09pm

I am an advocate for smaller is better ...

when packing for your trip..a duffle will do over a large suitcase.. you can find laundry drops most everywhere

when letting a car...pick the smallest compact comfortable for your frame...and book a car that has a security shield in the boot... one that you pull over the top of your luggage and snaps in place by the rear door...

Automatic over manual...yes, it is more expensive...but burn up a clutch and see how expensive that will be...

I am forever telling my clients... don't try to keep up with native Irish Drivers... they know the roads and their quirks, you don't... pull over when safely possibly and let them pass

I had one client who insisted she wanted to drive...she had the car long enough to drive to Portaferry from Belfast... and back to turn it in the next day... She called me crying saying that there was just too much to remember... she has gone back three times now....uses public transportation and loves it...

Comment by Ryan O'Rourke on June 12, 2014 at 5:11pm

Having spent my first 15+ years of driving in America (and now having lived in Ireland for the past 3+ years), I have much I'd like to say about this subject.  I'll keep it to a minimum, though.

Irish drivers have some specific peculiarities about which foreign drivers will need to be aware:

1) Irish drivers, as a rule, would seemingly rather get in a head-on collision with you in the oncoming lane than risk a minor scrape with a parked car on their side of the road. Wait for it.  You'll see what I mean.  Do they not teach physics in school here??  I cannot tell you the number of close calls I've had on this (and the number of times I've been nicked by oncoming cars, as well). 

2) If you are used to reasonable speed limits in your home country (i.e. not the same speed as bicycles travel) and generally like to travel at (or close to) those reasonable speed limits, prepare for something entirely different in Ireland.  In some areas of Ireland (especially in Galway), the speed limits on major roads would be akin to speed limits in residential neighbourhoods in America.  And here's the kicker ... many folks seem apprehensive to even travel at that speed!  My thought is this ... if we're going to travel at the same speed as folks around here used to with donkey carts, let's just go back to donkey carts!  We'd probably make out better on the road tax, and fuel for donkeys (hay) is a whole lot less than petrol / diesel!

All this being said, driving is the best way to see Ireland.  Just be prepared for some of the oddities of Irish laws and the typical Irish driver.

Comment by Kieron Punch on June 13, 2014 at 7:27am

Beware of elderly Irish farmers driving high powered Subaru station wagons at only 20mph on major roads as they transport the passenger compartment!

Also, watch out for funeral corteges. It is not the done thing in Ireland to speed past one if it is approaching you (everybody slows down) or to overtake one if you are stuck behind it. I was once driving from Limerick to Rosslare to catch the evening ferry back to Britain and got stuck behind a funeral hearse, which was going at no more than 25mph, all the way from Bansha, just outside Tipperary town, to New Ross, a distance of more than 60 miles. This was in the days when the N24 and N25 were still largely single carriageways and so there were no opportunities to overtake. I nearly missed the ferry.

One final point - never trust an Irish driver to use a car indicator light in the way it is supposed to be used, particularly on a roundabout. Just because the car may be showing a flashing left indicator light doesn't necessarily mean the driver intends to turn left.

Comment by P.J. Francis on June 13, 2014 at 10:01am

Until August 29, 2014 a free bus service will operate out of the Burren National Park Visitor Information Point in Corofin, County Clare.The 16-seater bus will operate, at approximately hourly intervals, from 10:15am until 6:00pm seven days a week. It will drop off and pick up visitors at set locations around the park. It gives visitors the opportunity to explore the five scenic way-marked walking trails found within the park. The service is in its third year of operation and offers people the security of parking their cars in Corofin rather than a remote roadside spot in the Burren. 

Comment by Fran Reddy on June 13, 2014 at 10:16pm

I made my better half drive and since it cost more to insure me too, we didn't bother. Thank God we had an automatic as it was interesting enough to drive on the left! Leaving parking lots was tough as you had to remember to stay on the left again! We found that driving on the back roads, we were afraid to pull over for pictures at least when it was winding as we were afraid that someone would come round and rear end our car! So we missed some good pictures! We did not get a GPS and inevitably got lost but that is when the absolute best scenery of the trip occurred! The roads are much more narrow than we are used to and it was evident from the scratches down the side of our rental car when we first got it (and I'm pretty sure we added some!) ; ) The towns we went through that were a good size were quite congested in the main streets but the countryside was wonderful for the most part. I wish we had been stopped by a herd of sheep or cattle but it didn't happen, except coming down out of the Comeragh Mountains when these wee dears (see picture) ran across in front of us! But they stopped and so did we as they posed for a photo and we all went our merry way thereafter!All in all, rent an automatic if you don't regularly drive a standard and enjoy the ride :)


Comment by James McNamara on June 14, 2014 at 9:17am

Definitely there is no point to renting a car if you are just staying in Dublin.  There are very few places to park and so many buses that run about every 15 minutes.  It is very pleasant to ride the buses.  I have seen tourists getting parking tickets for parking where none are intended.

The Irish however, even in Dublin, do insist on having their WALKING funeral corteges, and you just have to wait.  Even the buses have to wait until they arrive at the cemetery.  Some wish to stay in the old ways and that is commendable.  Remember to be patient at all times if driving or even when riding the buses or trains, there can be unexpected delays.

Comment by James McNamara on June 14, 2014 at 9:25am

Bit, the last time I was over, the automatic and manual trans cars had same price.  I almost always did go with manual as years ago that was all you could get. I grew up with the clutch over here.  I finally gave in to having an automatic in 1997 when it just became too comfortable to have A/C and an auto in all the traffic of southern California.


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