Getting around in Ireland - Driving, cycling & boating

The freedom of travelling through the country by car or bicycle, rather than train or planes, enables tourists to stop, walk in the fields, stop at Celtic ruins and discover tiny Gaelic speaking towns off the tourist map

Vehicles hardly approach the high speeds of drivers on autobahns in west European countries such as Germany, France and Italy but there are other dangers and risks travellers should be aware of. Likewise with boating and cycling.

Driving tips for Ireland

Ireland is a relatively small country but traversing from east coast near Dublin to the spectacular harbour city of Galway in the west, is not a quick journey due to the state of the roads. They tend to be narrow, two-lane roads that can be jammed with traffic – human and herds of cattle in the rural regions!

For those not used to it, driving in Ireland is on the left! Become accustomed to this before you hit some of the more treacherous roads in the countryside and especially near cliffs. The roads are at times narrow and made worse by the rain, mist and fog – in ANY season.

Throw in masses of cows and sheep and it can be challenging.

The main tip with driving through Ireland is to take it easy. Locals are used to the roads and may drive faster but don't use that as a cue to increase your speed. Though the further from the cities you get, you'll find the pace all round is very leisurely.

Mostly manual in Ireland

When hiring a car, be aware that most are manual (stick shift), not automatic transmission. And don't expect you will get an auto just because you reserved one. There are a limited number available. With a bit of Irish luck you will, but be prepared you may need a hasty lesson in manual driving if you're not used to it.

Use a map or GPS on your Irish road trip

It's highly recommended to get a map. Some rental companies may also hire out GPS's. It's not hard to get lost as there are many little country roads but that is part of the fun of Ireland – discovering places you have never heard of and engaging with the charming locals. In fact, asking directions from a local could end up being a half hour conversation about your Irish lineage and who they know with the same surname!

Roads can be quite primitive in comparison to the four lane highways at home. And often they're not well marked. And in night it can be pitch black without any streetlights in rural areas so it may be wiser to travel during daylight in unfamiliar and remote parts of the country. And know the upcoming towns and landmarks (have a map!) as signs can be few and far between in some areas.

Blood alcohol limit in Ireland

Just because drinking is a national pastime, doesn't mean drink driving is acceptable. The legal blood alcohol limit is 0.08 and it is an offence to drive with a reading above that. Like any country, observe their local laws.

Ensure you have enough petrol in your car

Petrol is easily found at service stations (though it's not cheap) and it's wise to always keep at least a third of a tank full. Reason being many service stations close on Sundays, and in remote rural areas you could travel for long stretches without being able to fill up. And some don't take credit cards so have cash handy.

Driving on the left side of the road in Ireland

There seem to be some cavalier attitudes to overtaking on two lane highways. Irish drivers will often go right down the middle of the road to pass another car, regardless of oncoming traffic in the other lane. The oncoming traffic; as well as those being over taken, are expected to drop to their left while the passing car goes right down the middle, making it seem that the overtaking car has right of way!

As mentioned, drive at your pace if you are nervous about the road conditions and if you are driving slower than others, keep to the left side of the road and use the shoulder (if there is one). If you are driving much slower, it's not a bad idea to use the hazard lights while as far left as you can drive.

Signposts & road signs in Ireland

When there are road signs, you will notice that all place names are written in English and in Irish (Gaelic).

This is generally considered quaint by travelers until they find themselves in a Ghaeltacht region. These are regions where Irish is the dominant language and all signs are written in Irish only and all people speak Irish, though most have a very good command of English.

Trying to decipher written Irish is impossibility. The words do not resemble English at all and therefore it can be quite easy to get lost. The Irish language is making a comeback and is now a compulsory school subject, spreading the areas that are in Ghaeltact regions. Currently they are found in Kerry, Galway, Mayo, Meath, Cork, Donegal and Waterford.

Cycling tips for Ireland

For those who seek to really experience the Irish countryside, cycling can be a wonderful way to do it. However it is not without it's pitfalls.

Don't assume from the idyllic postcards and brochures it's a easy ride. Many of the tracks have serious hills and can be dotted with large potholes. And as pointed out above, many roads are narrow do not have shoulders or cycle lanes. You may find the where the bitumen stops abruptly, old stone walls or stiff hedges crops start, leaving no room to move. The safest option is to stay as far left as possible, keeping in mind the traffic can be of nightmare proportions.

And if you want to see the magnificent views Ireland is renowned for, be mindful they are usual very high and that means and you have to get yourself and your bike up there. Plan your cycling trip carefully as what seems a short distance could take much longer due to the state of the roads and how they rarely seem to go from A to B in a straight line.

And while the countryside is lovely to cycle through, Dublin isn't. Like many cities kamikaze courier cyclists weave through traffic and pedestrians with skills that rival stuntmen and women. Dublin is much better experienced on foot for tourists.

Be prepared with the Irish weather while cycling

One of the most important factors of any cycling trip is the weather, and in Ireland it can be temperamental with four seasons in a day not uncommon. It may start off warm and dry with the sun shining, yet descend into a grey misty and cold hell an hour later.

Wear layers and prepare for all inclement conditions. It is wise in summer to carry a flashlight if you get stuck cycling at night. While the summer days are long, light until 10pm and later depending on where you are, the darkness is total, making cycling dangerous. Not only potholes, but apparently roving badgers are a hazard too!

Another handy tip is to take a tool kits to fix punctures (which more than likely will happen) and once again, a very detailed map that shows inclines.

Boating and swimming tips

While it seems amusing to think of travelling to Ireland and swimming at all, especially when coming from warmer climes, it does happen. There are even surfers who travel to the isle to experience the breaks. However many Irish beaches, rivers and lakes are not supervised. And those that are normally only during "office" hours" in summer (while anyone would want to swim in Ireland in winter is a question that cannot be answered in this blog).

What can be more dangerous than swimming in surf, is swimming in lakes and rivers in Ireland. As well as strong, unpredictable and to the inexperienced eye, unseen currents, inland waterways can plunge suddenly in depth and have all sorts of vegetation, branches and rubbish underneath that you could get snagged in. It's advisable not to swim at all as fatalities are increasing.

And you are more likely to encounter trouble with idiots in motorboats than any dangerous marine sea life. There has been a proliferation of inexperienced motorboat and jet ski riders travelling at high speeds on waterways. And the restrictions on small vessels are non-existent. Stay out of their way is the best advice.

Staying safe near the Irish coast

The Cliffs of Moher in County Claire may be magnificent, but it's not suggested you climb them. Nor other rock faces along the spectacular west coast which are steep and high and treacherous.

Even climbing low level cliffs has resulted in people being dragged out to sea by freak waves. It's one thing to look over a cliff and admire the view, than to attempt to navigate it. It begs the question "what for"?.

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