Close Your Eyes and Say a Prayer: A tale of learning to drive on the left side of the road

This is a story about my first time driving on the left in Ireland for any length of time. No curse words are found here, but plenty of descriptive sounds. Enjoy:)

Have you ever driven on the opposite side of the road? If so, whether it was left or right depending on your country of origin, you’ll be able to relate to this story. One warm summer in West Cork I was traveling and had just picked up my rental car at Cork Airport. For at least the first 100km I constantly reminded myself to stay on the left side of the road AND to go left at the roundabouts. And there are lots of roundabouts in Ireland. I also drove incredibly slowly for the first couple of days and pulled off the road countless times to allow “the locals” or as I’ve come to call them “bats out of hell” to pass my tiny Nissan Micra.

While Ireland, for all intents and purposes, is a modern country, it’s roads still harken back to the days of the horse and wagon. What would pass for a one lane road in America is definitely a 2-way thoroughfare, to be sped down as quickly as possible. Beautiful hedges full of wildflowers such as fuschia, meadowsweet, and this cool little puff of a blue flower that I have yet to identify, line the road, sometimes on both sides. There are hidden sticks and ditches and rocks and many small, but mighty car adversaries. This is why I recommend getting full coverage when renting a car in Ireland. You can find out more about that here.


Small Irish Road

Praying for a Pull-Over

I vocalize a lot when I drive in Ireland. Gasps and cries are common, especially during the beginning of a driving trip. The longer I drive, the more comfortable I become. Those cries turn into little mews of distress when passing a lorry (truck) on a tiny country lane. It also takes time to spatially orient and adjust to the fact that the steering wheel and safety belt are on the other side of the car and the passenger side is now to my left. On one particular trip I noticed something interesting. At first I kept my tires towards the white line in the middle of the road. But often there was no white line! So I kept close to the middle anyway. As I increased my mileage it was like a switch was flipped and I began to trust my peripheral vision and found myself much closer to the hedge, giving those beasty vehicles and coaches the room they deserve.

Returning my car rental on this same trip was a completely different story. Here’s what I noticed:

-I almost made it up to the speed limit! You know what’s funny? I’d see a speed limit sign increase right as the road narrowed. Go figure. Average speed on small roads is about 100 kmh (62mph).

-Passing cars and trucks became easy! This is no small feat as getting a straightaway with good visibility is not common. It’s more a recipe of hold your breath, pray, trust your intuition, look and go!

-I began to recognize the tourists. They tend to drive vehicles with D in the license plate (for Dublin) and can be seen driving at a snails pace everywhere they go. I hope the next car I rent has C for Cork. I’d like that.

– Opening the car door brought a sense of ease. I felt I could handle whatever the roads brought my way. I was tested coming out of Killarney National Park in County Kerry. This is a HUGE tourist area and giant coaches can be seen taking up precious space as they navigate a very small road.

My first trip to Ireland I scratched our family rental car on this stretch. I was with my mom and cousin and as we rounded a blind bend with rocks sticking out from our side, a tour bus came around. Here was the scenario: Screams all around, a quick pull over to get out of overwhelm and scraaaatch on the side of the car. Not good. I navigated this road with no scratches and only small gasps of annoyance. Progress!


All of this said, driving around Ireland is a fabulous way to see hidden gems and get out of tourist traps. There are signs all over the country side pointing towards stone circles, old burial grounds, strange little museums, and artisan foods. It’s how I explored the Priest’s Leap, Borlin Valley and found Mannings Emporium, my new favorite place for coffee in West Cork. The challenges are well worth the rewards.

A piece of advice…

If you’re thinking how brave I am, a solo female traveler, driving alone in Ireland, know this:
I was scared, but did it anyway…

I suppose this is one of my gifts. I’m afraid to do a lot of things, but I don’t let it stop me. I urge you, if you have the desire, to give it a shot. Here’s a bit of advice from my friend Ger Kavanagh, Cork city born and bred:

When entering a roundabout with uncertainty about where your exit is, get in the interior lane and go around at least 3 times. Once to find your exit, twice to find your exit again, and 3rd times the charm, change lanes and take your exit!


Do you have any stories from driving abroad? Share in the comments below!

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