I (Heart) Roundabouts: Driving in Ireland

Just obtaining a rental car in Ireland was a challenge; even though we booked months in advance, when we arrived at the rental car location we were told that they were entirely out of cars. They shipped us off to another rental car location, where we were able to obtain a car, but because we needed a one-way drop-off on the other side of Ireland at the end of our trip, we ended up needing to drive back into Cork to exchange cars midway through the month.


Throughout the zig-zag process, everyone was almost maddeningly charming, which deprived me of my usual joy of complaining about rental car companies.

The car we rented is, of course, a manual. I’ve owned several manuals, so this isn’t a problem, but I was amused when the woman told me that the car was a manual right after I finished signing the rental contract.

Like many things in life, driving in Ireland has been simultaneously terrifying and really quite fine.

I’ve used roundabouts in the United States. However, compared to Irish roundabouts they seem large, disorganized, and generally terrifying. I’ve encountered a few large and terrifying roundabouts in Ireland, but I’ve fallen in love with the small, zippy sort.  Look right and go. So efficient.

Driving on the left isn’t so bad either, even though I have no intrinsic sense of which side is actually my left. This makes turning challenging. I try to cope by:

  • Following a car in front of me
  • Keeping the driver’s seat toward the center lane
  • Lifting up my hand and make an L with my thumb and index finger (ideally, before I begin turning, not during)

Some of the roads seem impossibility narrow. I don’t mean this in a hyperbolic way; yesterday I drove down a theoretically two-lane road and had brambles brushing both sides of my car simultaneously. There are pullouts to facilitate passing, but unless you’re actually near a pullout, passing involves careful backing up and prodigious hoping.


(This is a photo of a theoretically two-lane road, but not the one mentioned above with the simultaneous brambles. I was too busy panicking to stop and  take a photo of that one.)

The narrow roads are scariest in towns, where I worry about my mirrors hitting cars, buildings, and pedestrians. Parked cars regularly block lanes, meaning that moving cars swerve into the other lane to pass by. As far as I can tell, the general rule is that the car that gets there the quickest gets to go.

For all of the swerving and narrowness, I have yet to have seen a car accident in Ireland. In general, people seem to be very alert and adaptive while driving. Plus, they probably have a better sense of widths than I do. Several times, I’ve seen a tractor easily navigating a narrow road that I just cringed my way through.