Up until my recent trip to County Clare, which just took place the week before Easter, I had not driven in Ireland since my very first visit in 1999. In the years since then I happily let Declan take on driving duty. So it was with trepidation that I took possession of the keys to the blue Nissan in Shannon Airport and began my journey to Kilkee and Rose Cottage. Thankfully, when booking the car we remembered to ask for an automatic transmission because, though I do know how to drive a stick shift, I did not want the added challenge of doing so while also driving in the right side of the car and on the left side of the unfamiliar and often winding roads of County Clare.

In the driver's seat with Eoin in the back, somewhere on The Burren, photo taken by Anton

After I made sure the scratches on the boot (trunk) and the bonnet (hood) were well documented before accepting the car, Anton skillfully loaded all our luggage into the boot and we were on our way. With Eoin perched on his booster seat in the back and Anton in his co-pilot seat, map in hand, I drove white knuckled the hour journey to Rose Cottage. Having just spent many sleepless hours traveling by air, this was no easy task. However, we made it to the cottage without a hitch, no wrong turns and always remaining securely on the correct side of the road! Our journey to the cottage was greatly enhanced by the mild, sunny weather that greeted us upon our arrival in Ireland, weather that changed drastically the following day and gave us almost a full week of howling wind, cold temperatures, rain, hail and snow! But while we had it, that sunny arrival day provided Anton and Eoin with a good opportunity to take in the beauty of the countryside and our pretty little town of Kilkee. I was too busy concentrating on the road and the car to chance my arm (or our lives) with any sightseeing of my own. Although I became more comfortable and self-confident driving as the week progressed, it never got to a point where I felt anywhere near the ease I enjoy when driving at home. So driving in County Clare took my full attention and whether driving through towns, along narrow country roads or when dealing with roundabouts, I was never able to let my guard down and relax completely.

Roundabout image courtesy StarskyandClutch.co.uk

Roundabouts, an inventive solution for avoiding the back ups that traffic lights can create, made our week in Clare virtually traffic light free. Although roundabouts don’t work as well for the high volume traffic found in a city like Dublin, the light to moderate traffic we experienced in Clare this time of year allowed its roundabouts to work quite efficiently. However, for a novice like me even the most efficient roundabouts in the lightest traffic took some getting used to and required my total concentration! The thing to remember with roundabouts is to stay in the outside lane if you plan on exiting at the first or second exit but move to the inside lane for any exit after that. These instructions were conveniently given to us during a Clare Talk Radio program we tuned in to a couple of days after our arrival that focused entirely on roundabouts, because apparently, even the natives struggle with roundabout etiquette!

Notwithstanding roundabouts, I have to say that the greatest challenges of driving in County Clare occurred on the winding country roads, which posted speed limits from 100 km/h on the open roads down to 50 km/h through the towns. This translates from kilometers per hour to miles per hour to roughly, 62 mph on open roads and 31 mph through towns. These speeds may sound reasonable enough except when you consider that those roads posting 100 km/h were for the most part narrow, winding, two lane country roads. With no new speed indicated, narrow 100 km/h roads would suddenly curve to nearly a right angle or turn into a snake with rounded curves or a lightening bolt with jagged curves. When we weren’t gasping in fear we had to a laugh at some of the absurd signs we passed with curving black lines depicting roads, which hardly seemed possible, but always proved a reality. Although we managed to photograph a couple of these wild Clare road signs, the wildest ones were on roads far too challenging to allow us to stop for a photo, so they will be left to the imagination!

Signs along the road on the way back to Kilkee from Doolin, notice the speed limit.

However, winding roads and all, I would say we navigated our way around County Clare and its Burren quite well, aside from a couple of instances of becoming lost inside little villages where a junction would contain at least a half-dozen signs pointed in different directions, usually indicating a site or a town but rarely indicating the name of the road. And as far as actual driving safety goes, there were a couple of close calls, but for the most part the driving went smoothly.

The final challenge in our blue Nissan came during the 4:30 a.m. journey back to Shannon Airport to drop the car off and catch our flight home. After only a couple of hours of sleep the dark, foggy and still unfamiliar roads made getting to the airport on time a bit stressful with my knuckles as white as they had been on that first drive out to Rose Cottage a week earlier. However, we made it on time and again, without incident, though I don’t know that it would have been possible without Anton there to watch for road signs in the dark that led us back to Shannon. At best, if I had been on my own, I would have circled those roundabouts more than once searching for the correct exits along the way – looking like the typical tourist and very likely arriving at the airport with little time to spare!

A particularly interesting and well-prepared sign.