Dublin: Driving in a Twilight Zone

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.

Keep an eye out for Irish ambulances.

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”.

Be sure to watch out for cyclists, pedestrians and the occasional garbage truck while in Dublin.

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.

A tourist coach and truck get close in Ireland.

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.

Dublin has a system of light railway called The LUAS. It can make driving in the Dublin CBD a nightmare.

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.



You have to understand Gaelic to drive in Ireland. (Watch out for the sheep too.)

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.

There is network of highways radiating out from Dublin. Top speeds can be 120km/h.

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.

The Terios parked on a country road in County Dublin. Roads edged by tall stonewalls are common in the East of Ireland.




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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Keem Bay: On the edge of Europe

By Conal Healy


IT was a perfect spring day out on the West coast of Europe.

The sun was shining, and yesterday’s gale had dropped to a whisper.

From the last beach – some would argue – in Europe I looked out on cobalt-blue Atlantic Ocean.

Over the horizon, just out of sight, was America. There was nothing between me and USA but 3000km of water, cold water.

Keem Bay, for all its picturesque magnificence, has to be the coldest beach on Achill Island, County Mayo, Ireland.

I had been told as a child that five tides met at Achill Head – one of the arms that sheltered the yellow sandy beach.

Despite my childhood warning I pulled off my heavy woolen socks and stuffed them into my much-travelled walking boots and ambled down the golden sand beach.

The first wavelet stung, so did the second and the third. This was cold water, seriously cold water.

“It’s warm today, don’t you think? It’s not that usual mad cold,” remarked a local, who was enjoying the sun after a long winter of grey short days.

I agreed and hobbled to a nearby volcanic-black rock in an attempt to warm up my almost-numb toes.

Socks-in-feet again, I sat back to admire the view.

On that perfect day I wished I had packed a pair of shorts. The previous night the weather forecaster had warned of a risk of sunburn if people stayed out for more than 25 minutes.

A HEAT haze hung over the Minaun Cliffs, among the  highest seacliffs in Europe, the distant coastline of south Mayo   shimmered…everything blended together like a watercolour painting.

Two days previously – when I arrived on the island – the mist had rolled in, erasing temporarily the tall mountains and the rest of the view. It was a day for writing post cards.

The next day a thankfully rain-free gale force wind had cleared the view but you almost had to weigh yourself down with rocks to stop from being lifted off your feet.

On this third day Achill shone like a new pin. Like an emerald in a sapphire sea. This had to be one of Europe’s best kept secrets.

ACHILL takes its name from the Irish word for “eagle” –  from the Golden Eagles that used to hunt over this beautifully desolate place,  Achill, the Island of the Eagles.

The eagles are long gone, another footnote to an island which has been moulded by nature for millions of years.

Bleak granite mountains – nurtured by glaciers – are now covered by brown heather and thin grass form a dark backdrop to an almost empty landscape.

The forests – like the eagles – are long gone, only their bleached roots remain, buried in the bog that time dissolved into over the millennia.

FOR at least the past 5000 years people have worked the land in Achill. Their stone-age tombs remain on the slopes of Slivemore. However more recent history hasn’t been kind to the island. The famine of mid-19th Century started a string of tragic events that started an exodus that has only slowed in the past couple of years.

A long deserted ruined village – beside the local graveyard in Keel – stands as testimony to this dark times.With little industry on the island there was little for successive generations to do but join the millions of Irish people on the emigration trails across the world.

But things are changing. The Celtic Tiger economic boom proved to be godsend to the island. A seedling of infrastructure planted in the early 1980s have also blossomed making this west coast island a holiday destination waiting to be discovered.

ABOUT 300kms from Dublin, Achill is about a half a day’s leisurely drive from the Irish capital. There is a coach service too. However – if you have the time – a train to Westport and coach to Achill is perhaps the best way to make the trip. There is also a bicycle trail from Newport.

A sheltered rural scenery is gradually transformed after you leave Newport and take the coast road by the shore of the drumlin-filled Clew Bay.

After Mulrany you skirt around the edge of Curran, an ugly lump of heather covered granite, the road ribbons between bog and rock only the occasional sheep or a weary-eyed dog noticing you.

In the harsh evening light of early spring everything is usually burned into silhouette. Drooping telegraph hang like shining silver cobwebs.

You round a corner and the narrow bridge crossing to the island can be seen, it is Achill Sound.

There are the traditional white-washed cottages, putting up wisps of sweet-smelling turf smoke, crouching low against an almost perpetually blowing gale force wind.

New houses are there but the bogs, the mountains, the islands and the ocean haven’t changed.

You drive up a rise and look down a wide valley to the village of Keel – a collection of cottages strewn between the domineering Slievemore (literally translated from the Irish as Big Mountain) and the curved beach of a horseshoe bay.

An almost diesel-blue bog lake is held in place by a barren golf course of green, rimmed with gold – a sure sign of the precarious hold the grass has on the sand underneath. You are never far from a sand bunker when you play golf on the Keel Sandybanks.

Down the valley and into the village itself, the money from the EU has got this far (in one form or another) and there are backpacker hostels, pubs have been extended and it is possible to hire anything from surfboards to AirBnB cottages.

It seems incongruous to sometime see old satellite dishes on the gables of traditional white-washed cottages, with a reek of turf against the side wall, potato drills in the garden and a scarecrow guarding the onion patch.

Unlike a lot of European rural communities, Keel (and the rest of Achill) appears more like a scattering of white Monopoly houses than something actually planned.

While a lot of Europeans prefer to tour the island by bike, a car is a better option especially when it comes to climbing mountains.

Drives in Achill

Three of probably the most exceptional drives in Europe can be done in half a day – if you are in a rush. A full day – with leisurely stops and a picnics – is far more enjoyable.

The Atlantic Drive – starting just outside Achill Sound – takes you winding past a real pirate’s castle through small villages until you are faced with a panorama of the Atlantic Ocean. At times the road shears away to boiling breakers and the view should take your breath away (if the usual gale doesn’t).

The next drive is up to the Minaun Heights. Originally the road was dug out of the mountain so a TV transmitter could be erected. The view from the top of the (466-metre mountain is top-of-the-world stuff and is a must for anybody with a video recorder.

Then follow the road to the end of Achill, Ireland and Europe to Keem Bay. Over the mountain,  past the estate where Captain Boycott (the man made famous when Irish people refused to work for him and gave the English language a new word) and around by the cliff road and down to Keem.

A word of warning, however. None of three drive should be contemplated if you have unsteady nerves – or your car has dodgy brakes. If you suffer from either complaint you run the great risk of becoming part of the scenery.

Also: We aware of sheep straying onto the road.

Five things to do in Achill

1. Climb the Minaun Heights (on a clear day).

2. Walk the golden beach at Dugort.

3. Climb to the old lifeguard station at Keem Bay. The Victorian era  station has been left to fall into ruin, it is a good climb to the top. The view is amazing.

4. Walk from Keel to Purteen Harbour (via Nun’s Cove).

5. Walk the streets of Achill Sound.


Summer: Bright at about 5.30am, dark by about 10.30pm. (About 15 hours of brightness).

Winter: Bright from about 8.30am, dark by 4pm. (About 7.5 hours of “brightness”)

In August 201:  Keem Bay  was voted the 11th Best Beach in the World. The travel organisation Big 7 Islands announced their Top 50 Beaches in the World list and in among some of the most beautiful and stunning locations on Earth is Keem Beach. Not only that but it just missed out on a Top 10 finish!

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Famous people who visited Achill Island?