Stonewall in the Irish countryside

Driving in Ireland – A first timers guide

When I was a kid, I took fiddle lessons. I actually liked the fiddle but hated the lessons. It was only one hour a week but the hours required in between lessons to practice was the worst part of my day… after just a year, I quit. Over the years, I’ve picked up my fiddle here and there, learning new tunes as I went but never really put in the time to beccome any good. That’s why, this year I made a promise to myself that I would take lessons again so I could improve my poor form, learn to read music, and, hopefully, become a better player. I’m happy to say, I kept my promise (even if I’m still not that good).

For four months, once a week for 2 hours, I attended adult beginner fiddle lessons. Of all of the new tunes learned in these lessons, my favourite was an Irish jig called Road to Lisdoonvarna. While I had no idea where Lisdoonvarna was, I loved the song so much that I decided to look into it. I found out that Lisdoonvarna is actually a place in Ireland and I knew I had to go. Not necessarily Lisdoonvarna, but Ireland in general! After some quick searches on Google Flights, I found a direct flight to Dublin that was within my budget, and over a long weekend! After getting B to align on vacation, we booked our 5 day vacation to the Emerald Isle!

Cliffs of Moher in Ireland

Last year, we jumped on the opportunity to spend 4 days in London, which to be honest, was just a tad too short for the time zones crossed so I was a bit hesitant that Ireland would be an equally difficult transition. The flight from Toronto to Dublin is around 6 hours and the Aer Lingus direct flight is considered an overnight flight. When you factor in the fact that in order to get any type of a “goodnight’s rest”, you would need to fall asleep during taxiing, skip the on-flight meal, and wake up once you’ve touched down in Dublin, I would not consider this an “overnight flight”. AND, if you’re anything like me and simply cannot sleep on a plane, you have to find ways to make due. This trip, I made friends with your seat mates (one of which is originally from Ireland and gave some tips for our trip), stocked up on a few mini bottles of wine, and passed the time with a few movies. When we landed at 6 am (really closer to 2 am our native time), I was a barely functioning human – but the plan was to grab an insanely early breakfast at a pub (we were the first ones there!) and head out to our hotel to pay for an early check in. It wasn’t ideal, but it worked for us!

Now, I could go on and on about how grand Dublin and Ireland is as a whole, but what I really want to highlight are my learnings of renting a car in Ireland. Not only that, but as a Canadian/North American and driving on the left side of the road for the first time!

Lesson 1 – Tight left, WIDE right. Every time we entered into an intersection, I would remind myself of the proper formation to make a specific turn safely. When driving in Canada, and many other countries in the world, it’s easy for me – tight right, wide left but going into every intersection and reminding myself was key. It really helps when you have someone else in the car to remind you.

Lesson 2 – Pre-purchasing insurance is worthless. This isn’t widely known when renting a car in Ireland. Purchasing insurance through a third-party like I did through Expedia, as well as any credit card insurance OR just your home-country insurance is completely void in Ireland and you must purchase their insurance upon arrival. Thankfully, Expedia refunded the fees that I had purchased ahead of time but just save yourself the hassle, and don’t purchase insurance ahead of time and budget the extra Euros on the road.

Lesson 3 – The mirrors come in very handy when knowing your space on the road. While I use my mirrors a bit when I’m driving at home, I really found that on the narrow Irish roads in the countryside, the side mirrors are very helpful when knowing how much space you have on the right and left sides of the car. I learned this little trick on the second day and found that I had quite a bit of room along the drivers side to play with and that I was hugging the curb a lot. This little trick helped give me a lot of confidence when driving. 

Lesson 4 – Sometimes, you’ll end up on some local roads that you believe are single, but they’re not…  The GPS told us that the best route between Portumna Castle and the Cliffs of Moher was on country roads – easy we thought. It was, until all of a sudden, we found ourselves driving up what at first, we thought was a driveway ended up being that country road the GPS was advising us to take. The road was so narrow, my heart was racing the entire time hoping we wouldn’t come face to face with another car, or worse, a big truck. Luckily, we didn’t encounter another vehicle because there was little to no room to pull over to let pass. 

Road in Ireland

Lesson 5 – Understand the road classification of the country you visit before you pick up the rental. After learning lesson number 4, I give you lesson number 5. Roads labeled with a “M” signal to you that it’s a motorway. We drove on M6 from Dublin to Galway and it was a lovely drive. “N” roads are national roads that link towns together. Some are wider than others and you can take a guess which type of road they are by the number that follows the N. 1-33 are larger roads and the higher numbers are more narrow. All are well kept, but good to know. Regional roads and local roads are classified with a “R” and “L” respectively. Both roads are narrow and can be absolutely terrifying to drive… but you’re in Ireland – Embrace it 🙂

All in all, driving in Ireland gives you freedom and access to things that are a bit off the beaten track – which I like. And, when it’s all said and done, and you’ve parked the car for the night, there’s always a pub just around the corner with two pints of the black stuff waiting for you. (black stuff = Guinness in case you were wondering ;))

Guinness in Dublin, Ireland

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