Driving in Ireland can be stressful. Trust me, I just got back. There's not really any way to avoid the stress, but it is worth it: when you drive, you control your own destinations and timetables, and you can see plenty of the magnificent countryside in just a week or ten days. Here are a few tips to make your life easier.
1. Use a GPS. Just trust me on this, okay? Here's what a street sign looks like in Dublin:
See anything? Neither did I. But if you have GPS, it doesn't matter, because it will tell you where to turn with a nice visualization of the street layout as your go. In actuality, about every fifth street in Dublin is marked with a sign, but they're small, low contrast affairs that are screwed into the sides of the buildings on the corner. And if you plan to travel the country roads (for example, on your way to your B&Bs), you're completely out of luck.
I can't stress it enough: get the GPS. You can add it on to your rental package for about €10/day, but a much cheaper solution is to purchase the Ireland maps for the GPS already own. For my Garmin GPS, the SD card cost me $80 used on eBay, and I intend to recoup almost 100% of that cost by reselling it.
2. Tight to the left, wide to the right. Repeat this mantra every time you turn. Once you're driving straight ahead, it's easier to manage, but those turns are real nailbiters. Remember "tight left, wide right" and you'll avoid ending up on the wrong side of the street staring down an oncoming farm tractor.
3. It's not just about which lane you're in. Other things to consider: You merge onto highways to your right. Slower traffic keeps to the left, and you pass on the right. You pull over to the left when you want to look at your travel book or let someone by. You must yield to oncoming traffic when turning right, but you needn't bother when turning left.
And perhaps most importantly, your body is on the right side of the vehicle. This matters—a lot—when you are traveling on Ireland's famous narrow country roads. Your instinct will be that the entire width of the car is to your right and that it will be clipped by oncoming traffic, so you'll pull way over to the left and scratch your passenger door on the enormous thorn bushes. You can get a lot closer than is comfortable and still not get hit by that Beamer rushing toward you.
4. Roundabouts. Oh, the roundabouts. They're everywhere in Ireland. Once you get used to them, you'll wonder why they're not everywhere in the US, too—they sure beat waiting at red lights. The trick is simply to remember that when you're entering the roundabout, you must yield to the traffic that's already in it. The GPS comes in handy here as well, because it tells you which exit to take once you're in. The best part about the roundabouts is if you're unsure about which way to go, you can drive around and around and around as many times as it takes to decide. Just don't get too dizzy, or you'll forget tip #2.
5. Remember the people are Irish. It's not the Bronx. They're nice. There is almost no road rage on the Emerald Isle; I think I heard one horn in the ten days we were there. Don't worry that someone is going to scream at you if you make a mistake. Unless it's your spouse.
But if I had any tips to help you with that, I'd be rich.