Driving around Ireland

Driving around Ireland is fairly straightforward for South Africans, as I’d speculatively written about in a previous post. As part of the heritage of British Imperialism, we also drive on the left. In addition, most of the hire cars appear to be manuals (stick-shifts, as the Yanks like to call’em), which we’re used to.

Regardless of any personal feelings around the de/merits of British Imperialism and said nation’s continued presence in Northern Ireland, the fact that we didn’t have to get used to driving ‘the wrong way’ around multi-lane traffic circles – sorry, round-abouts (which flummox me at the best of times) and that we didn’t have to perform complicated mental adjustments when turning into oncoming – whooops! close call! soooorry!! – traffic, was definitely an advantage. (And a darn good reason to visit again, sez I, firmly nudging hubby in the ribs…)

Our hire car

This was our car, a Nissan Almera, which we hired from Budget.

Our car

Our car

You might just be able to see that the number plate says “Baile Átha Cliath”, so it’s a Dublin-registered car. All the number plates I saw in the Republic had the name of the county on it in Gaelic, which sent me into paroxysms of delight (I know, I’m a bit odd like that…). The next line indicated the year (06 = 2006), followed by a two-letter abbreviation for the county, and then the presumably unique number.

On that score, I fortuitously came across another WordPress blogger writing about travelling in Ireland, who makes the following astute observation about licence plates in the North:

What’s with the License Plates?: Being the main (actually, the only) driver, I notice car-related things, like license plates. Most of the license plates (but not all, and it’s unclear whether that’s of any significance) are in the form Letter-Letter-Letter [space] number-number-number-number, but for some reason it seems like 90% of the cars have as their last letter the letter “Z”. Very odd, that, certainly not random, so it must have some secret meaning, but I haven’t yet divined what it is. Also, some of them are yellow, and some of them are white, and I don’t know what that’s about either.”

I know! I was puzzling about the same thing! Fortunately, I do have an answer to the ‘Z’ question: our friend from Belfast, a veritable goldmine of information on all things Irish, pointed out that the ‘Z’ indicates the car is from Belfast. I do confess that I found this rather puzzling: surely ‘B’ would be more appropriate? ‘Z’ seems really arbitrary…

The roads … are something else

Right, so driving in Ireland is fairly straightforward – for people from erstwhile British colonies at least.

But the really tricky part are the roads: narrow, wind-y [as in curvy, not wind-swept], bumpy and pot-holey. Most seem to have either/and/or stone walls on both sides, with massive hedges ontop, which you can’t see over or through – so you have no idea of oncoming traffic either. As in like this:

Narrow roads, tall hedges

Narrow roads, tall hedges

Not only are the hedges really tall, but in their unpruned state, they seem to have a lot of thorny branches sticking out and threatening to scratch your car. Which is definitely not a good thing, especially if your car hire company has threatened to deduct the entire excess of E900 at the slightest additional scratch on your car.


Many of the hedges are, however, pruned – almost perfectly straight to about 2.5 metres above the ground, presumably to allow cars and trucks to pass without getting entangled, but curving across the road at the top, thus creating a lush green archway. I’d love to know, though, who is responsible for pruning them? Is it the local farmers, whose land they line? Or the roads department? Or an independent contractor? If you know – please tell me!

There was only one occasion during the entire trip where we actually saw the machine doing the cutting – it looked like a kind of tractor with a flexible mechanical arm connected to some sort of chainsaw, which thus could be adjusted to cut at different heights. Magic!

If anyone has a picture of one of these contraptions, please send it to me!


* In case you don’t know what an i-trip is, it’s a little gadget that allows you to listen to your i-pod in your car through the FM radio. You just have to find a gap between stations, where there is just the peaceful rush of static. You tune the i-trip to the same frequency as the FM radio. As we discovered, however, this was nice and logical in theory, but almost impossible to implement in practice.

Because we were continually on the move, the radio stations kept changing frequencies, disappearing and reappearing. From one county to the next, from one town to the next, sometimes even from one valley to the next, the stations kept migrating and new ones kept popping up… which meant that there was constantly the snap, crackle and pop of radio frequency interference interrupting our musical pleasure. Seriously annoying.

3 thoughts on “Driving around Ireland

  1. Hello Sands,

    In answer to your question, all roads maintenance (including headge cutting) is the responsibility of the local authorities. So the county council in the area will be the people paying for (if not actually doing) the cutting.

    Hope you are enjoying the holiday.

  2. Hi Seamus

    Thank you very much for explaining that and for leaving a comment on my blog. I found the hedge cutting thing most intriguing!

    And we DID enjoy our holiday, very, very much indeed! We’ve already returned back home to Cape Town a few weeks ago – biiiig sigh.

    I really hope we get another chance to visit Ireland in the not-too-distant future, because there are soooo many places we didn’t get to visit this time. Despite the small size of your country, there is a surprising amount to do and see.

    See you here again, I hope!

    P.S. My name is Reggie, not ‘Sands’. 🙂

  3. On the blog mentioned above (http://ssshupe.wordpress.com/2008/06/28/nuggets-ive-missed/), a reader had helpfully left a link to this page (http://everything2.com/e2node/Irish%2520number%2520plates), which explains everything about the strange Irish number plates.

    To quote:

    “1987 Onwards

    In the Republic of Ireland, a new formula was introduced in 1987. This includes the year of registration, the location of registration (in a much easier to understand mnemonic form), and a serial number.

    As an example, 02-D-12345 was the 12,345th vehicle to be registered in Dublin in the year 2002. In a small county, such as Louth you may see numbers only reaching into the early thousands, whereas five digits are not uncommon in larger or more populous areas.

    Since 1991 Irish plates have featured the blue euro tag (the european stars emblem, with IRL written below), and many feature the name of the registration area in Gaelic.

    * CW – Ceatharlach (Carlow)
    * CN – An Cabhán (Cavan)
    * CE – An Clár (Clare)
    * C – Corcaigh (Cork)
    * DL – Dún na nGall (Donegal)
    * D – Baile átha Cliath (Dublin)
    * G – Gailimh (Galway)
    * KY – Ciarraí (Kerry)
    * KE – Cill Dara (Kildare)
    * OY – Uíbh Fháilí (Offaly)
    * LM – Liatroim (Leitrim)
    * LK – Luimneach (Limerick)
    * LD – An Longfort (Longford)
    * LH – An Lú (Louth)
    * MO – Maigh Eo (Mayo)
    * MH – An Mhí (Meath)
    * MN – Muineachán (Monaghan)
    * LS – Laois (Laois)
    * RN – Ros Comáin (Roscommon)
    * SO – Sligeach (Sligo)
    * TN – Tiobraid Árann (Tipperary North)
    * TS – Tiobraid Árann (Tipperary South)
    * WD – Port Láirge (Waterford)
    * WH – An Iarmhí (Westmeath)
    * WX – Loch Garman(sic) (Wexford)
    * WW – Cill Mhantáin (Wicklow)
    * L – Luimneach (Limerick City)
    * W – Port Láirge (Waterford City)”

    Ooooh, I totally love the Gaelic names of the counties! It’s like they have deliberately used the strangest phonetic spelling possible…. though I’m sure it all makes perfect sense to a native Gaelic speaker. 🙂

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