When we decided to go to Ireland, my mother-in-law said that they were flying into Dublin, but leaving out of Shannon, which is on the other side of the country. The easy thing to do would be to drive straight across the country and call it a day, but we wanted to explore as much as we could. We rented a car through AutoEurope, a Maine based car rental company. The entire process was simple as you book as you normally would in the States and pay online. I saved my receipt to my iPhone, but you should print off the receipt as they need it as proof of payment. Since there were 5 of us, but I knew the roads could be on the narrow side, I chose a Ford SX – a nice little car that fit all of us and our luggage. Wanting to save a little money (surprise right?), I also went with the manual transmission. In hindsight, I should have spent the extra money and picked the automatic, but I’ll tell you more about that in a moment.
We parked my in-laws and my son in the hotel and took a cab over to the car rental office. Sixt is the name of the company and they were busy even on this weekday morning. We opted for a GPS system from the office for €10.00 a day. Here’s a hint: Ask the rental car company if they have updated their maps on their GPS systems before you rent one. For example, the M8 which was constructed between 2006 and 2010 and completed in May of 2010 did not appear on our Garmin. Thank goodness my husband decided to pull out a map or we would have extended our drive considerably on the back roads of Ireland.
Leaving the car rental office was interesting in itself. My husband and I had decided we would share in the driving and I am more of a city driver than he is so I chose the first leg out of Dublin. We had to deal with finding our hotel on the Garmin and then not only getting in the car on the right hand side with the steering wheel on the right hand side, but driving on the left and then shifting with my left hand. It was a brutal start, which I can only laugh about now, but at the time it was stressful! I ended up putting in the rental car location as our destination so we drove around and right back to where we started! We finally made it back to the hotel, loaded up the car, and headed out of Dublin. Or should I say we tried to head out of Dublin? The clutch was sticky and I stalled out so many times in Dublin and on roundabouts that it is only laughable now. I am so glad my family and the other drivers on the road were patient with my driving. On a tour we took later in the week, Mike the tour guide said that if you see the number one sticker on the back of a car, Irish drivers know that these cars are rental cars and that the drivers are most likely not from Ireland and are dealing with driving on the other side of the road, etc. and that they should be patient with them. Of course, our car had no sticker on it, but my driving told everyone I was not from Ireland!
Once out of Dublin and once we were on the M8, it was a breeze. Having a highway where you could go a little faster and have a shoulder was a welcome sight for me as was fifth gear. Here is an example of the M8 south of Cashel.
Mike also mentioned that if you were to drive in Ireland, fly into Shannon and start driving those roads first and I have to say I agree with him. If you are not used to city driving and you have to also drive on the left, shift with your left hand, etc. consider a smaller town to drive in first. Maybe you think it won’t stress you out until you are at that intersection needing to make a right and you suddenly can’t remember how to shift, turn right, and stay in the left lane all at the same time. It was funny enough watching everyone looking the wrong way when trying to cross the street!
When getting off the highways and traveling the side roads, you might become extremely religious. I was fine as long as there were no other cars on the road and forget about the trucks! Here is an example of a small back road where you literally kissed the hedges on the side of the road if a car passed you.
After about two days of driving, I did get used to it and was quite surprised at how easily I did adapt to the change. The smaller roads without shoulders I would never get used to, but I adapted to driving in Ireland and would love to do it again. I loved the roundabouts and stalled out far less by the end of our trip. My husband never ended up driving at all (chicken!), but I kind of liked it. Yes, traveling in a tour bus might be easier, but we wouldn’t have the freedom to explore like we had with our car. Figure out what kind of traveler you are and then choose the best method of exploration for you. We did a one-day tour and left the driving up to Mike, but for the remainder of our time in Ireland, we enjoyed exploring the back roads of Ireland and seeing as much as we could on our own schedule.