Holy Shit! Driving in Ireland

First off, renting a car at the Dublin airport mimicked buying a used car on Aurora Avenue in Seattle. It felt like we were haggling with a used car salesman for insurance, transmission and tire coverage. If he’d mentioned ‘clear coat’ I would have gone ballistic. We needed a shower after.

The swearing started directly after the airport, and our wake has been littered with profanity throughout the country ever since. Jeff has made up some new ones and I’m pretty sure ‘Kelli!!’ isn’t just my name any more.

And, as luck would have it, I was driving our automatic rental car and it stalled, almost permanently, in the middle if an Irish round about! We did a ‘Chinese fire drill’ like we used to do in high school; Jeff ran around and hopped in. He jiggled some stuff, a lot of grinding later – much honking from behind – and we moved it to the side of the road.

Here’s where I both bitch about and, well sort of, praise Hertz rental cars. They made us limp it to the West Ireland airport. So wrong. Again, there was prolific swearing during this procedure. Then they swiftly gave us another car. But the new one was a huge luxury car we didn’t ask for, and it was a manual transmission. I can’t drive a manual and me learning it in Ireland was highly discouraged by the rental car guy. Under normal circumstances the upgrade would be welcome. Even the stick. But we are in Ireland sooo yeah, NO!

The roads here – if not on an expressway or carriageway- are of three clear classifications.

  • Shit!
  • Oh Shit!!
  • Holy Shit!!!

Allow me to explain.

Shit! roads have a line down the middle of one variety or another. It’s never consistent. In theory, these roads are supposed to contain cars traveling opposite each other on either side of that painted divider. But not when you’re traveling in your gigantic car you never asked for or possibly wanted. Short of scraping our left side on the ancient stone walls, hedgerows and houses we whiz by, we count our lucky stars to survive them. But even in a Citroen C1 the lane would be inadequate.

Oh Shit!! roads are those that are 3/4 the width of Shit! roads but without the lovely line you were laughing at and mocking just 15 seconds and one turn ago. But now you miss that line, and the extra two feet of roadway with no shoulder. Now you’d sell everything you have for that line. But even if you could allow yourself a moment to scrape together all your worldly possessions, there would not be one place to turn out to hand them over. Just sheep fields, and the sheep are just looking at you with thinly veiled contempt.

The speed limit sign will say 80 on this stretch of tarmac- and your fellow travelers will strive to achieve it. On these roads I recommend only driving with one eye open – like a pirate. You’ll see death coming as you hold your breath and grimace, but from only one side of your body. The other side will be blissfully ignorant.

Holy Shit!!! roads are like snow flakes. Each one is unique and are never replicated in all of human history. These remarkbke gems are, however, not rare AT ALL in Ireland. So much so that Google maps thinks they’re normal roads and will route you down them with abandon, even when your rental car needs to get to the regional airport, post haste, to die. These one lane tracks with stone walls and hedgerows growing over the top will require you to put your mirrors in so as not to rip them off the car at the whole 30km per hour top speed youre traveling. But then this adds in a little Irish mischief. I mean, why not?! When your neighbor, or his cow, meet you on the Holy Shit!!! road, there is no turn out – just a wet bog on either side. You’re trapped unless you go back. What can you do?

But here is when the Irish do something that is only hinted at in literature and legend. Never speak this secret to anyone, but all Irish people are leprechauns. Don’t believe me? Then how do they always find themselves in my rearview mirror after meeting head on, on the Oh Shit!! and Holy Shit!!! roads? Its leprechaun magic. Plain and simple.

That and I’m pretty convinced that all these churches are to stop and pray for your life while driving. When cars were invented it must have filled more than a few pews.

‘Please God, it’s me Patrick Seamus Micheal O’Malley. I just got my driving license. Not driving that one horse trap anymore. So well…you know, I’m gonna a need fair bit of that leprechaun magic. Here’s a fiver for the collection plate.’

There are ZERO straight roads in Ireland. Google maps will make them appear straight but it’s a lie. They don’t exits. Just like pots of gold at the end of rainbows. When you get there, the promised straight road disappears to a narrowing winding deathtrap you’ll slalom through, like the alpine downhill outrunning an avalanche.

Reading signs has been interesting too. Yesterday, when we came upon a couple of head scratchers Jeff asked me what they meant.

‘How do I know?’ I asked him. Like I’d studied the Irish driving manual.

‘Uh, you just took the written test in Spain, and studied for it like the bar exam’

What was he thinking? ‘I only know Spanish road signs. Duh.’

‘These are signs valid in the entire EU. They’re symbols – not words’.

‘Well, I didn’t see that one in my book.’ I hate it when he’s right. ‘Just assume it’s a cliff and don’t go there.’

Now, I can’t drive here anymore, cause of the stick thing. Much to Jeff’s both angst and elation. He did a lot of shifting away from his side of the car, wincing, and ‘Oh my God’ing when I was driving. He would call out frequently ‘Did you see that?!? How did you not hit that?!?’ Quite a bit during my time behind the wheel. I know exactly what it is but I’ll never tell him. I have just enough Irish in me for some residual leprechaun magic. And, I find in most circumstances, a little leprechaun magic is all it usually takes.

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