If you go to Ireland, and decide to drive a car around the country, keep one thing in mind - the cars are small, and the roads are narrow, with no shoulders.
Oh, and the steering wheel is on the right side of the car, and you drive on the left side of the road.
It's actually kind of like playing bumper cars, except you are not supposed to actually hit anything. The only problem is that, on the narrow back roads, avoiding a collision with something is not always easy. That's why all of the cars have scrapes and dings on the sides, and they are sometimes missing a hubcap, or two.
Now, there are four starter items to mention about driving in Ireland. First, all road signs are written in both English and Gaelic. Second, round-a-bouts are everywhere. Third, traffic lights are on lamp posts that sit on the same side of the intersection that you stop at when you have a red light. Fourth, the country roads are narrower than you can possibly believe.
During my week in Ireland, I basically did a cross-country, driving tour. We were in a Toyota Avensis, which is a car Toyota makes for the European market. To put it's size in perspective, it's somewhere between a mini Cooper and a Chevrolet Malibu.
I drove from Shannon to Bunratty, then the return trip from the Cliffs of Moher to Bunratty (someone else drove on the trip up there); then from Bunratty, southeast to Waterford the next day; followed by a drive west to Cork and Blarney the day after that. Then I drove north to Cashel, to see the Rock of Cashel, and continued northeast to Dublin after that.
After a couple of days in Dublin, I traded off driving duties with another person for the four-plus hour, late night drive west to Galway, and then on south to Ballyvaughan. Finally, I drove south, back to Bunratty. All I can say is that I got to see a lot of Ireland's beautiful countryside. A particularly beautiful stretch takes you along the southern seacoast from Waterford to Cork, where you are often looking out at the bays to your left.
I totally recommend doing the driving tour of Ireland, but driving in Ireland has a hidden side that you have to be prepared for - the narrow roads, and the tight squeeze when two cars are passing each other on the country roads. Now, the national highways are fine. There is enough space for two cars, but, to really experience what it's like to drive in Ireland, you have to go off the major highways.
In Ireland, the country roads are better suited for mopeds, than compact cars that are actually smaller than compact cars in America. There are stone walls on the edges of the road, and I do mean on the literal edge of the asphalt that you are driving on. And the walls just keep going and going. This is not like the metal barriers put up in America to keep someone from driving into a river. These are property barriers, to keep you from driving on someone's land.
Oh, and did I mention the back roads are constantly winding and turning. It's best to go what would be the kilometers equivalent of about 25 miles per hour on those roads. Furthermore, when there is no one coming from the opposite direction, you really have to drive practically in the middle of the road to have any breathing room from the roadside barriers. Then, when someone is coming from the opposite direction, you have to slow down, probably under 10 kilometers per hour, and pull as far to the left as you can. Therefore, your side mirror is at best an inch from the stone wall.
If you look over to glance at the wall, chances are you'll hit it. Try making the one-hour drive from Bunratty to the Cliffs of Moher, on winding roads like that. Your stomach will be tied in knots. But, I promise you, despite the narrow nature of the roads, It is totally worth it to drive around the country. You'll see some great sites.
Curt Yeomans covers education for the Clayton News Daily. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.