We rented our first car today since arriving in Ireland July 17, having avoided using an automobile by taking buses or enjoying rides from local friends. But Ireland, while a relatively small country (32,599 square miles), is too big to navigate by bus alone. Besides, we have plans to journey north to Sligo and Bundoran, where trains or buses simply aren’t practical.
Here’s the thing with renting a car in the British isles: they drive on the wrong side of the road, and the driver even sits on the right side of the car. So right away you have that emotional reaction, that “That’s just plain crazy” that occurs to you. Intellectually, it’s a bit different. Driving on the left, surprisingly, is easy to get used to, as we found out this afternoon. We set out to find the entrance to a park, and ended up driving around a number of blocks, getting farther and farther away, eventually finding the gate, which was closed. But it was good driving practice. A Youtube clip we came across gave us a handy bit of advice when driving here: Keep Left, Look Right. So by the end of the afternoon, we had it down to a science. It’s mostly a matter of raising your awareness of where the other cars are, and what the drivers are doing, which after all, is a pretty good thing to do when driving around boring old home. (Have we mentioned that we don’t have one of those at the moment? Read other blog entries for details.)
The real bugaboo, or rather two bugaboos (do bugaboos come in pairs?) are first, the great likelihood that if you rent a car here, you will get a manual transmission, because that is what folks drive here. This is what drives the tour business: most tourists wanting to see the Ring of Kerry are frightened at the prospect of dealing with narrow, winding country roads, while trying to shift and clutch. I confess that I was one of those frightened people. We took our Ring bus tour a couple of days ago. But, in a continuation of our amazing streak of luck, we managed to dodge this particular bullet: the rent-a-car guy at Budget told us categorically that we were likely to get a manual, but miraculously, he had an early return from a lady who decided to take that Ring of Kerry trip on the bus, so she didn’t need her car, which happened to have an automatic!! Our luck has been phenomenal, that’s all there is to it. Drinking enough Guinness warms the hearts of the locals so they take pity on us poor tourons.
The other bugaboo is fuel: most vehicles here use diesel, and you must remember to put the right fuel in the tank. To add to the challenge, signs indicating diesel here are black, and petrol green, the direct opposite of the U.S. I’ve never heard of anyone actually getting the wrong fuel into the tank, but the web sites about driving in Ireland that I checked before starting on our journey contain repeated warnings about the cost of having the tank drained and causing fatal damage to the engine, so I assume that it is occasionally a problem.
In the end, the real issue is not driving in a funny backwards land (did I mention they have red POTS and DLEIY signs at intersections?). It’s all about dealing with the goofy drivers and goofier pedestrians. People roll along, paying no attention to clueless people walking dreamily across the street, their guardian angels silently rolling their eyes.