Mazda 121
Originally uploaded by Pat and Amy’s pics

We have reached a new milestone in our assimilation to Ireland. We bought a car! My dad loved to shop for second-hand cars. For him, it was all about the challenge of negotiating a good bargain and seeing what the salesman would take in trade. I think Dad would have traded chickens and potatoes for a car if he could. I know for a fact he did trade custom engraved rifles for cars. For me, though, buying a car has always been an unpleasant and stressful task. I don’t have a clue about cars and I am sure it shows. As you can see from the picture, though, we were successful in our car quest. It’s not fancy, but it runs and will hopefully keep us mobile for the two years that we are here.

Driving in Ireland is a very different experience from driving in the U.S. The most obvious difference is that the Irish drive on the left side of the road. When we picked up a rental car in January I was the one designated to drive, since I needed the practice before I began driving for work. I knew it was going to be a difficult transition to driving on the left hand side of the road when I first went to the left side to hop in the driver’s seat and it wasn’t there. Sitting in the right seat and driving was a new experience, and I became aware that as I drove my entire body was leaning towards the left side of the car. It was as if my mind couldn’t process the information while I was sitting on the right hand side of the car.

For me, the most nerve wracking aspect of driving in Ireland is the narrow roads. Many of the roads that are designated as two-way streets are only wide enough to allow one car to pass at a time. The unwritten rule seems to be that oncoming traffic will pull to the side and allow several cars to pass. Then it is their turn to drive down the road while oncoming cars give way to them. This turn taking makes for slow going, but it is the only solution for many of these roads. While test driving a car in city centre last week, I was driving on one of these very narrow roads. I was following a local delivery truck when, for some reason, an oncoming drivers decided that she could just squeeze through rather than wait for us to pass. The truck driver and I were both forced to drive up on the sidewalk, and when the car passed me our side view mirrors still clipped each other. It is very common to see cars with their passenger side view mirrors folded in or dangling sadly on the side of the door.  I can definitely see why this would be given my own “mirror clipping” encounter. 

As Pat mentioned in a previous post, the cars are generally quite small here. Between the price of fuel and the narrow roads a small car really is the most practical choice. It is also far more common and much less expensive to drive cars with manual transmissions. Being a country girl, I learned to drive a manual at a young age, so this isn’t really a big issue for me. The Irish do, however, have a technique that I will need to brush up on before I take my driver’s test: using the handbrake on a hill start. This is not a technique that I learned at home, or ever observed anyone else doing. It actually makes a lot of sense given the hilliness of Cork City and the amount of traffic here. There isn’t much room for rolling backwards before first gear engages.

Despite the challenges of learning to drive in a new country, we are both thrilled to have a vehicle. We are looking forward to forays out to some of the wild and scenic areas or County Cork and beyond. Maybe even this weekend if the weather holds…