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Driving Across Ireland - 15th October 2010


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I’ve gone on an annual pilgrimage from home in Yorkshire across Ireland to County Mayo via Holyhead for years. Not only does it provide an ideal opportunity to let me properly acquaint myself with whatever car I’m driving and to kick back and enjoy a few beers with my mates, it also reminds me how pleasant it can be to experience driving in another country with a different road mentality.

Back in the day, before major road improvements (A55 through Anglesey and the M50 and N4 from Dublin) the journey across Ireland was very rural - fine wisps of turf smoke creeping into your consciousness, jolly little red tractors bussing flat capped smiling gentlemen in overcoats (despite the heatwave), kids on bikes stopping to stare at the hurrying British Holidaymaker, and mad car-chasing dogs in every other gateway. The old roads were uneven at best, sometimes didn’t quite meet between county boundaries and would make my young daughter either hurl or shriek with delight at the rollercoaster ride.

I remember being particularly impressed by the wide hard shoulder along many routes, into which the ever helpful slower cars would pull in order to allow the imperious Brit to cruise past without delay. To me the polite, friendly courtesy which other road users displayed was a stamp of honour for the whole country – even if the journey could sometimes still be ball-achingly slow.

This last trip has highlighted how much the country has changed since those early days. The aforementioned road improvements have reduced the journey from 6 to 3 hours. Much of the route has new, smooth, wide tarmac and 100-120kmh speed limits. The numerous small villages with colourful shops run by local families are now bypassed completely bringing an end to the slow bottle-necks along the route but also ending the fascination as holidays began and work was being left far behind.

The wide hard-shoulders are still there but the new fast, slick road has driven away the ubiquitous courtesy because the glorious indigenous folk have completely forgotten how to use their mirrors. Sadly, I have to announce that the driving habits seem to become more British each time I return, in fact this last visit my travelling companions and I were the only cars who seem to remember just how useful the extra space can be.

It begins just out of Dublin with some twat who thinks 40mph is quite fast enough thanks very much, and no, he doesn’t see the need to slide across to let anyone else past. He (or she) will then be joined with one or two like-minded myopic morons to lead the west-bound trek. They don’t remain alone for long of course because one by one the tail is extended by half-wits who either don’t know how to, or daren’t, overtake – perhaps they will explode or something – instead they trail behind remembering to leave enough space in front for nothing bigger than a wellington boot, rendering queue hopping impossible for those behind – and yes, still everyone forgets just how useful the run-off can be in these circumstances. Occasionally a suicide jockey will blast past about a hundred or so of these mules regardless of solid whites, bends or hill crests, meaning everyone else has to hold their breath and shake their heads disapprovingly.

The net effect is that the resulting tailback of cars stretches the full width of the fucking country with no hope for a daylight arrival at destination – I suspect the best route would be to bypass the new superhighways completely and try to wind across country on the small old, bumpy rural routes. That’s progress.

Mike.


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