He was expecting a warm Irish welcome and not a trip to the Twilight Zone
By Conal Healy
(aka Mick In The Middle)
THE traffic lights had changed to red.
Thank God. Desperately I tried to find the demister button. The heavily fogged windscreen needed to be cleared.
Nothing looked familiar on the dashboard. Bloody hire car! Swearing , I flicked the switch for the wipers.
Again, I swore!
Somebody had switched the indicators for the wipers.
Another button was quickly jabbed, this time the wiper came on.
The back window wiper, that is.
Heavy rain was now hammering on the roof of the car, drowning out the DJ gibberish from one of the local radio stations.
I was at one of the busiest traffic junctions in Dublin, Ireland, about to hit a highway, and I needed to see where I was going.
Frantically I looked across the unfamiliar controls while keeping one eye on the road ahead.
I knew that one false move could switch this tin-can on wheels from four-wheel drive to two-wheel drive … or it would clear the screen.
From the back of my jet-lagged mind, vital information was fighting its way forward to my sub-conscious (“Wiper on the left . . . indicators on the right . . . it’s reversed, you nong* ”, yelled my frustrated inner child).
The rain had now turned to sleet.
Big lumps of grey-white were now hitting the windscreen.
“And the weather forecast for Dublin is for rain, maybe snow later. A top of four degrees,” burbled the radio station.
“And now time for the surf report . . .” It was at this point, my mind snapped.
A 28-hour flight from Australia had left me exhausted, constipated, jetlagged and now my ears were hearing the local surf report. I muttered in disbelief, then stared at the radio — who in their right mind would go surfing when snow is forecast? Jeez it is April. Early spring, late winter … if you were a pessimist.
“… Lahinch should be up to two-metres…. Strandhill has a few swells…” an ex-pat Californian with a mid-Atlantic accent was doing his best to talk up the surf.
“There should be a few small point breaks down the Wicklow coast…”
If I thought things couldn’t get weirder, I was wrong.
There was an urgent knock at the window of the car. I span away from the radio to be confronted by an imploring face.
Surrounded by of four lanes of traffic, in the middle of a snowstorm, a one-legged, sodden-to-the-bone Polish woman was trying to sell me a copy of the latest Big Issue magazine.
She was hammering on the window with one of her crutches.
“You buy? Five Euros?” in a heavy Eastern European accent was erupting in one ear. “…and Bundoran might have the odd point break,” said the American into the other ear.
Am I really in Ireland, my mind asked? What is this madness!
With just enough Euros for the highway tolls, I had to decline buying copy of the charity magazine.
And to calm my brain, I jabbed at the radio, turning it off.
IT was just that moment the traffic lights turned green. Thank God.
Still struggling to make sense of this mind-numbing scene, my foot hit the accelerator, the car lurched forward and I aimed it into what I hoped was the correct lane for the Dublin orbital ring road.
Big lumps of grey-white cotton drops were hitting the windscreen as the snow turned back to sleet. With a badly misted-over, sleet-splattered screen the car merged successfully onto the multi-laned 120km/h highway.
Being a four-wheel drive, the hire car didn’t respond well to my desire to keep up with the traffic flow.
It might have only been a few weeks old, but the Irish Terios lacked the grunt of my regular Australian car, a six-cyclinder four litre Ford Falcon.
In the swirling snowstorm behind me, other drivers were ignoring the speed limit and were busily flying past, flashing their lights, honking their horns while shaking angry fists in my direction.
By a stroke of luck a roadside construction site loomed into view.
There were many “Slow Down” warning, 60kms signs. I braked to slow down, relieved at the chance to study the various dials and buttons.
Okay, there’s the heater… Ahhhh there’s the demister …check road ahead…. clock… knob for side mirrors…check road ahead. I looked in my back mirror and realised slowing down was a mistake, a big mistake.
I was now being tailgated by three cars, behind those were other drivers eager to switch lanes.
To my side, an expensive streams of Audis, Beamers and Mercs sailed past, seemingly oblivious to the speed restrictions.
With roadworks on both sides of the highway I was obeying the limit …and was the slowest car in six lanes of traffic. Welcome to friendly Ireland.
OVER the past 30 years Ireland has experienced an economic boom and depression.
Hundreds of thousands of workers from across Europe and around the world descended on the small island nation to make money, to party hard and to drive on almost-Third World roads. When the money ran out, so did a lot of the foreign workers.
Tourists have been warned that “many Irish roads are below international standards, many Irish motorists are unlicensed, and the police have no way of removing uninsured foreign drivers from the roads, on the weekend many country roads belong to boy racers”.
It is not unusual to see vans perform illegal U-turns in the traffic light intersections (halting eight lines of traffic).
Or for a learner driver to do a leisurely three-point turn on one of the city’s main arterial routes at rush hour (causing a two-kilometre tailback) just to get a car park spot in front of the local conveniences store.
A standard day out in Dublin usually involves at least four breaches of the Australian rules of the road. You might regard yourself as a good driver in Australia but when you’re in Ireland, do as the Irish do.
The rules you are most likely to breach are: Parking on the wrong side of the road, mounting the kerb, illegal (and repeated) use of the car horn, queuing across intersections. In Ireland people seem to park wherever they can.
In places like Dublin, Cork and Galway motorists run the risk of having their car “clamped” — where your vehicle is immobilised by a large metal contraption wrapped around your front wheel.
Be aware that in the best traditions of the informer, locals can get a “spotters fee” if they see a car illegally parked and report it to a clamping company.
The declamping fee varies –but a good average is around $150. Driving in Dublin is a nightmare. The CBD is a maze of one-way streets. Car-parking is expensive ($3 for 30 minutes). Traffic lights seem to be positioned every 50 metres.
On some streets you share the road with windscreen washers, beggars, bike riders, motorcyclists, other car users, double-decker buses and Dublin’s light train system, the LUAS.
ONE of the best things about Dublin — as the old joke goes—is the network of highways that lead away from the capital.
Off the motorway many local roads are not well marked.
Therefore, it is helpful to know the name of the next town or village on your route. Directional road signs are usually a single post with a number of arrows pointing in different directions. In some instances it is difficult to determine which way the arrows are pointing.
Some signs are broken and the arrows are pointing in the wrong direction. And to add to the adventure, some are in the Irish language.
In some part of the West of Ireland the signs are wholly in Gaelic.
Don’t be afraid to stop and ask for directions. The locals are usually very helpful and more than willing to offer assistance.
Ireland is largely a rural country and rural traffic is the norm.
Expect slow and gigantic pieces of farm machinery around every corner, especially in Roscommon (but that is just my personal experience).
Also be prepared for wildlife and pets suddenly crossing the road. Cows and especially sheep don’t mind using the public road as a resting place.
Even in Dublin collisions with horses are not unknown.
MY relationship with the Terios 4WD hire car lasted 10 days, adding 1200kms to its clock.
On the highways it was a nightmare, it had to be coaxed up to the legal speed limit of 120km/p.
Around the city it was perfect – it mounted the kerb admirably, it was nippy in one-way streets, high enough to see errant cyclists, and the rugged wheels tackled the city’s potholes with ease.
The car’s heater meant the heavy winter coat was occasionally discarded — but not the gloves and the scarf. And the off-road features? The car climbed over high mountain passes, flew past misty peat bogs, stopped sharply for a flock of sheep, chugged happily along behind rural tractors and only once left the tarmac.
As the Terios was being dropped back, on one bright spring morning — but with snow on the Dublin Mountains — the boom gate remote control failed at the entrance to the Dublin airport car park.
Rather than double-back through the airport’s torturous one-way traffic system, the Terios mounted a small nature strip and effortlessly drove around the boom gate and into a nearby car park space.
Who said you shouldn’t take a 4WD into the city . . . mind you, it was just a pity a surfboard couldn’t fit into the back of that Terios.
Clamping in Dublin: Why and what to do
Driving in Ireland?
Spring (March – May)
In spring it becomes gradually warmer with average temperatures between 8- 12 °C.
Summer (June – August)
The average temperature during the summer is between 16-20 °C. Apart from short refreshing showers, this is Ireland’s driest season.
Autumn (September – November)
In autumn, the temperature ranges between 14-18 °C.
Winter (December – February)
The average temperature during the winter ranges between 4-6 °C.
Daylight in Ireland
Winter: In Ireland, on the shortest day (December 21), the sun rises at about 8:40 a.m. and sets at about 4:10 p.m. providing approximately seven-and-a-half hours of daylight.
Summer: On June 21, on the longest day, the sun rises at about 5am and sets at about 10pm.providing approximately 17 hours of daylight.
Are you planning to visit Ireland soon?
Check www.met.ie for the latest weather forecast for the next 5-10 days around Ireland.
* Nong – in Australian slang, nong is used as a pretty mild and/or endearing insult. A bit of a twit, or idiot. (Source: Urban Dictionary)
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