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Driving In Ireland Part Two
After the walk through the gardens, we had lunch and I took a nap while Bridget went shopping. After she returned, I told her I was going down the road to the pay phone to call the B & B and confirm our arrival the next night. Well, I did, but I also went to Johnny Barry's and secretly met the group. I told them I'd bring her in about six o'clock; could they be ready? Sure they could; they'd just stay there. Uh huh, I thought, they'll all be nicely toasted by then.
We went to Johnny Barry's for dinner and I walked around - right past the group - and up to bar. Bridget was behind and followed me. She didn't recognize them (out of context, I guess). With her back to the crowd, camera flashes lit up the pub and the trap was sprung. She turned around in confusion and all her friends were grinning at her.
The entire pub commenced Happy Birthday to you. Of course, they wouldn't stop. The idea was for Bridget to stand up and make a speech. Well, Bridget wasn't having any, I had to tell them to stop, sigh, damned Americans.
There was an entertainer and he was very good but that wasn't enough. One after another, various locals were invited to 'give us a song' and they were expecting it. One had brought his flute with him. A barmaid with a beautiful voice even sang Summertime.
Later in the evening, someone suggested champagne - for the birthday. They didn't have any, so someone went a couple of miles down the road and picked one up at a hotel. I suspect we saved that lonely bottle from spoiling. Another mystery was a birthday cake that materialized complete with candles. None of our surprise party knew where it came from and in the midst of all the craic, we never questioned it.
I went to the bar and the bartender asked: "all these people came over here to surprise her?". I said, "yes". "My God" he mumbled in awe.
I went to the men's room and there were two locals ahead of me. "So, she's fifty?" "Yes, she is." "She looks well for fifty". "Yes, she does". "You don't look so well". I didn't feel so well, either. "Well, I'm married to her". A good laugh and a sympathetic pat on the shoulder.
It was perfect, we spent a horrible amount of money and closed the pub. While we are here in Glengarriff, not actually on the road, I think its a good time to talk about some other driving issues. I did my homework before we left. I suggest the same to you.
We didn't go to Northern Ireland. As everyone knows, the peace progress has changed Northern Ireland for the better. I don't know if it's still true but there used to be spots called 'Control Zones', where your car absolutely could not be left unattended. If you did, you may come back to find your car had been blown up. The police or soldiers assumed it had a bomb in it. Now, you know one reason why we didn't go there. Another thing about Northern Ireland. Red, white and blue kerbstones meant you were in a Protestant area; green, white and orange kerbstones meant you were in a Catholic area. I think it would pay to look like a tourist.
Even so, we do plan to go to the north on our next trip. The Haggertys are from Donegal; I wonder if they'll give me a discount on some nice tweeds. Of course, all tweeds in Ireland are Donegal tweeds; just like all tweeds in Scotland are Harris tweeds. I think I should give the family the business.
We drove out of Glengarriff and turned left. This took us down the south coast of the Beara peninsula. Back to the narrow roads and the sheep. The idea was not to go the whole length, but turn right (northwest) to cut across the spine of mountains at a peak called the Healy Pass.
The drive was the usual - "look out for that sheep" - beautiful countryside and drop offs down to the ocean. After we turned up the mountain track to the pass, the road turned into one lane and doubled back and forth in the predictable sidewinder snake pattern. Stone walls and waterfalls cascaded down on both sides of us (yes, some stones too).
We stopped almost at the top and took pictures of the road below and behind. At one spot, a flock of sheep were in the way and another car in front veered and stopped. Yup, American tourists, the guy got out and yelled "I've never seen anything like this in my life" (neither had we). One lamb was trapped on the road side of a stonewall and kept jumping up at the wall he couldn't clear. The mother jumped the wall from the other side (the wall was a good 5 feet high) and the lamb glued itself to mama's side. Then they ran together straight down the middle of the road in front of us. I crawled along behind and finally realized if I turned to the right I could herd them off to the grass. It worked. This was the one time I wished we'd brought a video camera.
We continued down to the coast and then turned right again to head back to Kenmare; our meeting place for lunch. Kenmare is a fairly large village and unlike some, it was very crowded; well it was lunchtime.
Don't expect to find many parking lots (in spite of Fodor's saying there are many); the street is the most likely place to park. There are car parks in the large cities, however. The street in front of our chosen restaurant was full. I turned into a small side road and found a spot. Again Fodor's says there are meters in Dublin but now that I think about it, I don't ever remember seeing a parking meter - anywhere.
It was the usual very good lunch, but we didn't linger. We were to be at a B & B in Bunratty (near Shannon airport) that night. Another couple had to be at Dublin airport for a flight that afternoon. Yes, they made it; I still don't know how.
It is a small country. As a comparison, the whole island (including Northern Ireland, of course) is quite a few square miles smaller than the state of Ohio; but don't let that fool you. The mountains, rivers, loughs and ponds make it very complex and the roads reflect this.
Off to the Dingle.
Adare is a fairly large town with more than the usual number of old castles, abbeys, manors and thatched cottages. It's apparently a popular stop for the Irish as well as tourists. We stopped outside a pub called Lena's (Bridget's mother's nickname) and took a picture. Then blasted up the road to Limerick.
Limerick is a pretty large industrial city and not much to look at. We turned left and headed out toward Bunratty. Almost to the first roundabout we came to a stop. There were three police (gardai) in the middle of the road (this looked like a motorway to me). It turned out they were checking auto registrations to see that they were current. They stopped and talked to every car and were laughing and joking with the drivers. It's a very different world, nobody was mad. I asked one if I was OK to get to Bunratty and he said "I'm not one of the locals" and called over another who said "Oh, yes, just take the next left and follow the signs". We flew off again.
The road to our B & B was between Bunratty Castle and Durty Nellie's pub. I passed it once thinking it was a parking entrance. Realising there was no other choice, I made the turn and we found it easily.
The vacation was running out, but there was one last scheduled event - the Medieval Banquet at Bunratty castle the next night.
I wanted to stop on the way back and top up the petrol tank. There's a good reason for that; the rental car would credit me back the initial charge for a full tank. This meant I should either bring it back on empty or bring it back full and get the credit. I feel that the shade of how much was left versus how much was used from full was in my favor if it was full. This is often the same in the United States.
The drive down was on good roads and uneventful. A pretty view did pull us off to a 'rest stop'; the only one that looked almost like they do in the states. It had benches and what I thought was a boat launch ramp. There was a road sign I could not resist, a stylized image of a car going into the water. It was very clear what you could expect if you drove too far. We found the village and missed a turn. The country was pretty as usual, and after too much of it I realized I should go back. On the way back we saw a sign that couldn't have been seen coming from the other direction. This has happened to me at home but I must admit it seemed to happen more often in Ireland. I read that sign twisting is a common sport of the fairies. I suspect the rosy cheeked young rascals with red hair myself.
At the entrance to Glin castle (or manor) there was a car park and an imposing archway. I parked and we walked through. It turned out that the arch introduced a very long drive but I needed the walk so we kept going.
The manor is magnificent and you can stay there for about £200 a night - a little rich for my blood. We were told it was still owned and lived in by a FitzGerald. We were started on a tour by a very knowledgeable and pleasant lady but she warned us a tour bus was due to arrive and cut us short. It did and we were. She suggested we show ourselves the gardens, so we did that. Then we walked back and left.
I realize this reads as if I rarely got out of the car. Well, it felt like that sometimes, but there was certainly more walking and sitting than driving. This is intended to be useful for anyone driving in Ireland, so put it down to that.
That night we were booked for the Medieval Banquet at Bunratty Castle. This is something even the Irish enjoy and I recommend it. There's a tour and then someone from the crowd is selected to be the lord of the castle. The dinner is launched with medieval customs and entertainment. The food is served in a way that only requires a knife. The entertainment and the food were superb, but I thought the entertainment was more renaissance than medieval - which I prefer.
The castle itself is worth the visit. They have a pair of stag antlers on the wall. They are enormous; taken from the moat of the castle in recent times, they prove that magnificent deer once roamed the country. A great time and then a stop at the local pub before bed.
If you visit Bunratty Castle, the local pub isn't Durty Nellie's, that's for tourists. The true local is Mac's, it's part of the recreation of a traditional Irish village. Incongruous, but true. They were as much or more entertainment than any contrivance for the tourists. One character collected pins. A squeeze box appeared and they passed it from hand to hand, each doing a tune. Everyone danced.
Get used to this, the warm, casual air in Ireland is also reflected in the lack of stress over punctuality. We stood around for a bit and someone showed up. I turned over the paperwork and asked for my credit. He said OK and drove us to the departure terminal. We forgot a tape in the car tape player. After we got back we called the rental company and asked about it. We never saw it again.
Don't make our mistake - take your time and be sure you have everything before you leave. Also, don't assume as I did, that the paperwork will be sent to you. Mine never was. So stay for the calculations and take those too.
That's it. But before I go there's one oddity we almost didn't catch. Early on, Bridget's brother Terry turned to me and asked. "Have you seen any policemen?". None of us had and from then on we made a point to look for and count any we saw. Guess how many police cars and policemen we saw on the entire trip? Ready? Three police cars - all empty. Six policemen: the three checking the car registrations between Limerick and Shannon Airport, one directing traffic for the match in Cork, one walking in Galway City and one standing at the bridge rail in Dublin.
I guess (and hope) they don't need many. About the only consistent "crimes" we read about in the Irish papers were pub owners being fined for staying open beyond closing time. I conclude that if you expect prompt assistance from police on the road, you're likely to have a long wait. There just aren't that many of them.
Alright, I hope you enjoyed the story. I just couldn't write my version of the Irish Driver's Manual; I get bored too easily. Now that I've made my excuses, there are a few driving points and comments I didn't mention. Some I just forgot, and some I didn't really run into. This should also be considered a summing up.
The roads in Ireland vary at least as much as they do in the United States. Yes, they have motorways and they have more now than when we were there. They are building them at an alarming rate. So fast that the Irish are not all that happy about it. The Black Family actually sing a song about the trucks going through where the cabbages grew (it's clear they don't consider this kind of progress all good).
Bridget and I discussed the idea of retiring there. We're reconsidering the plan. It's not just the weather; I'm afraid by the time we get there the majority of the country may look like an American suburb and most of our neighbors could be other retired Americans - ugh.
The Irish are very fond of America - unduly fond - in my view. All right, enough, I'll get down from my soapbox.
Let's get back to driving. Here are some points to ponder and or note (or ignore, if you like adventure).
Most of the miles we drove were over smooth, wide clear roads - at high speed. Most of the time we drove was spent on narrow, precipitous walled or hedged-in roads.The apprehension that goes with driving on the left doesn't occur unless you're in a town or city where there are other cars. After all, once you're on the main roads the only concern is going straight (and the Dublin twenty-four year old a few inches from your rear bumper). When you're on the cow and sheep tracks there is no left or right. The only concern that recurs is 'how close am I over on the left'. If you have a passenger, you're fine until you hear them scream or they flinch toward you - then you're probably too close.
I noticed I didn't cover any of the 'Roadway Markings' (you know - stripes). The reason is simple, they're pretty much the same as in the United States. There are a couple that should be mentioned though.
One is the dash yellow. It's on the left and used on roads with a hard shoulder. This isn't what I expected. The Irish version of a 'hard shoulder' looks like a dual-carriageway to me - it's not. The shoulder, as wide and smooth as it is - should not be considered a lane. It's for tractors, bicycles and pedestrians (if they have the nerve). You can move over to let another car pass, but you should immediately return to the proper (righthand) lane.
Another novel marking is the 'contra-flow bus lane'. This is a double solid stripe on the right. That's correct - the right. It's to indicate that buses have exclusive use of that lane - contrary to the flow of traffic. For heaven's sake don't drive in that lane - unless you fancy the idea of being smeared across the nose of a bus. There are also 'with flow' bus lanes and you're not supposed to drive in those either; even if it isn't as dangerous. These bus lanes are comparatively rare, so you should be aware in advance.
Here are some other unfamiliar markings that are usually only found in large towns or cities.
Well, parking is the bane of an Irish city. The towns aren't so bad - a side street can usually do. But it seemed to me every time I saw a pleasant parking space, it had stripes. They are on the left, of course. The single solid yellow means don't park during business hours. I never was sure what the hours were, so I didn't park. Remember, I avoided driving at night. The double yellow means don't park - period. I should note they have clamps.
If you haven't heard of clamps before, you're in for a nasty surprise. The clamp is a device attached to a wheel usually. You can open your car, get in, start it up, and listen to the radio - you can't go anywhere. The clamp immobilizes the car. If they get you, it's not just expensive to get your car back on the road - it's a real time-consuming nuisance.
Now, this last one fascinated me. It's a very clever and inexpensive way to produce the equivalent of a multi-way stop - without slowing traffic or making work for the Gardai. They have a paint pattern on the road in appropriate places. It's a cross hatch in stripes about six inches wide; this is known as a 'Box Junction'. You are never supposed to stop on this area. In other words you stop before it unless you are clear to proceed through to the other side. Once again, the Irish didn't pay much attention to it.
We should though, we're guests.
When I say the Irish, of course it's a generality. There are very conscientious Irish drivers - they tend to be older. The average age in Ireland is about twenty-four. You will see and run into (not literally I trust) more of these young Irish drivers. Many have the same regrettable driving habits as their counterparts in the States. You will read more and more about the sharp rise in accidents in Ireland; many of them fatal.
Watch yourself. I was chased by one of these young Dublin girls for quite a few miles. She was a couple of feet from my rear and I was doing about seventy-five miles per hour. I couldn't pull over to let her by until after five or ten minutes, I saw a pub with a gravel parking area. I pulled off and stopped. As she went flashing by (accelerating) she looked at me and pointed forward through her windscreen. I guess she was trying to excuse her dangerous driving by indicating a major crisis somewhere ahead (or maybe she was late for a party?).
Even after this hair-raising example, perhaps the most dangerous drivers we encountered (and dodged) were tourists. Whatever make, model and color rental car you get, watch for duplicates. They're probably other tourists and they may be even more dangerous than you are.
Actually, you may take comfort from this - there are very few people in Ireland. Therefore, there are very few cars on the roads. They all tend to be crowded into the cities and towns.
When you're rolling slowly through the rugged scenery, you can often stop in the middle of the road, get out and take a few pictures. Many do and if someone comes along, they won't complain. They may get out and have a chat. Oh, unless they're Americans; we Americans can be obnoxious. After all, we have to cover all of the Ring of Kerry within the next two and a half hours to stay on schedule.
Well, that's about all I'm prepared to write. Oops, I almost forgot - you must be over twenty three and no older than seventy four to drive in Ireland. This makes sense to me. If you're under twenty three - you're part of the problem. If you're over seventy four, give yourself a rest and take the tours. Or at least, take the trains and buses - you've earned it.
The Galway Hooker
This unique vessel, with its distinctive curved lines and bright red sails, originated in the village of Claddagh. During the 19th century, hookers supported a significant fishing industry and also carried goods, livestock and fuel. Seán Rainey is remembered for building the last of the original boats, the Truelight, for Martin Oliver who was to become the last king of the Claddagh; as king, he was entitled to white sails on his boat. Since the mid seventies, many of the old sailing craft which were on the verge of extinction have been lovingly restored and new ones have been built. During the summer months they can be seen at festivals such a Cruinniú na mBád - the Gathering of the Boats - in Kinvara.
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March 4, 2011
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