Driving in Ireland is hilarious. By which I mean terrifying, actually. Your first hint should come from reading the fine print on your Mastercard or Visa, or whatever you rent cars with. Because while it offers insurance coverage when you use it to rent, there are explicit exceptions for Somalia, Yemen and Ireland. I kid you not. And no, your AAA or personal car insurance won’t cover you either.
Of course, no company in Ireland will rent you a car without insurance, and the typical going rate if you don’t discover this until you walk up to the counter to get your keys is going to be roughly $95/day. Yeah, more than you’re probably paying for the car itself. And if you do show proof of third-party insurance, the rental company still isn’t going to trust you – they’re going to want to place about a $6000 hold on your card they can draw off, and that you can ask to be reimbursed for by whatever you’ve got.
Think about those numbers: they’re basically betting that the average American is going to put something less than $95 of damage on their car per day, or a total of less than $6000 before they call it quits and ask for a tow truck.
I’m assuming they’ve gotten those numbers by running some data, but from a strictly qualitative perspective, I can see their point.
First of all, while Ireland has their M- and N-routes – the equivalent of our Interstates and two/four lane highways – you’re going to spend most of your time negotiating the R (regional) and L (local) roads. These tend to be windy little things not much wider than a US-regulation bike path, with enormous view-blocking hedgerows on both sides. Unlike the M-routes, which allow you to go approximately 75 mph, these little blind corridors wisely limit you to a much more reasonable 50 mph. Think about that.
Pacing it off, it looks like you could, in theory place two cars abreast on these roads – well, in most places – but that “placement” becomes a little more fraught when you’re dealing with closing speeds approaching 100 mph.
Obviously, when faced with an oncoming vehicle, there’s an almost overwhelming compulsion to veer off toward the hedges. The problem is that those hedges are usually dense, mature gorse that will take the paint off that side of your car in a couple of seconds. Or they’re some benign vegetation covering ancient stone walls that will take the side of your car off that side of your car in about the same amount of time. Never easy to tell.
Sometimes there’ll be a little green space, maybe six to twelve inches, between the edge of the road and the start of the hedge. Don’t be lured in. That gap is invariably an overgrown drainage ditch that will grab hold of your tires and drag you into the aforementioned hedge. As a bonus, it’ll probably also bottom out your clearance and punch a hole clean through your oil pan. Don’t ask how I know.
A gentleman I spoke with in Bray suggested that, when in doubt, Americans should slow down and err toward the center of the road. His logic was that, this time of year, the oncoming car is more than likely an Irishman, and he’ll have experience enough to know whether there’s adequate room. He’ll flinch if there isn’t. The drainage ditch and hedge won’t.
Recall, of course, that you’re doing all of this calculation and negotiation from what, for you, is the wrong side of the road, and you can understand the temptation to avail yourself of Ireland’s extensive and comfortable network of trains and buses.
[Bonus video of a section of the Goat’s Path, speed limit 80 kph/50 mph – but don’t let the image stabilization fool you.]