An American would have to be crazy to sign up to drive in Ireland, I had heard. For that matter would a Canadian have to be looney? Not one to be deterred I signed up for 8 days with a manual car from Dan Dooley in Shannon and, already lacking a night's sleep during our flight from SFO through BOS, we headed out to try our luck. Within an hour on the country lanes of Co Clare I was ready to give up, cry, and wait for a bus. The roads we found all over Ireland are in absolutely perfect condition, but do they have to be so narrow? And what's with the hedgerows? Don't you realize that they tend to restrict the view of the road ahead? When a car or worse a truck approached from the other direction I found it best just to close my eyes and pray. But my prayers must have been answered, because after a few days the roads did indeed seem wider and my car did indeed seem narrower, and I started to reach for the gear shift with my left hand without thinking about it and I started to enjoy it. Still wish I could have enjoyed the scenery more rather than the view of the hedgerows.
I guess we got the worst weather Ireland has ever had. Two days with appearances of the sun but which ultimately turned rainy, like all the others. Our umbrellas were of little use with such a huge wind. I would have brought a rain coat but, being Californian, I don't own one. But we used what sun we had to explore Mizzen Head, Sheep's Head, Beara, and Dingle Peninsulas. Absolutely gorgeous.
We generally ate at restaurants rather than bars, and we ate very well everywhere. Fresh fish and veggies with very creative menus and delicious cider. The winner has to be a little place we found in Athlone called Thyme. That was worth 2 dinners. Probably the exceptional dish we tried all week was fish chowder, the best I have ever had. We were disappointed that the music in most towns started so late if at all. We ended up paying for a concert in Dingle that was worth the price. The best free music I found was a group of children playing on a street corner in Dingle. Dingle also boasts Castlewood, by far the best B&B of our trip. And the best breakfasts.
Dan Dooley treated us well and got us on the road with little trouble and with the parting words "look right, turn left" that I found to be very useful advice. Truly words to live by.
Aer Lingus carried us between Boston and Shannon very professionally, except for the food. The meal going east was the worst I've ever had on an airplane in my life. Followed soon by breakfast consisting of a small container or orange juice, frozen solid. Dinner on the way back was little better, but at least it wasn't beef. The planes did have good entertainment systems; two movies later you're in Shannon.
Making up for the weather we found great warmth in everyone we encountered. I was surprised that all the cars seem new and faster than mine. Such a lovely green neat colorful country. Such pride obvious in the presentation of the homes and towns. Flags and banners supporting the local sports teams. A truly beautiful country.
Look right, turn left.