Hedge! Or, How to Test a Marriage by Driving in Ireland

Road sign in Ireland

Last fall, when we started planning our grand trip to Ireland and Scotland, the discussion of transportation was a big one. Not too worried about Scotland, they seem to have mass transportation and a killer train system figured out for the whole country. Ireland, however, was another bird. We didn’t want a coach or tour bus (too restrictive plus I don’t like that many strangers in an enclosed vehicle hurtling around a country I’m not familiar with – oh, who are we kidding? I don’t like that many
people even outside of an enclosed vehicle.). We didn’t want a private driver (too spendy and nothing was going to mess with my castle and food budget). So Superhubby Jim came up with the idea we could drive. If by we, he meant himself as I was having none of it. I like to think of myself as a good driver, but on skinny roads and on the other side to boot, I didn’t feel good about the odds even with collision insurance.

On Day 2, barely recovered from the horror that is Heathrow airport, we showed up at the car rental company blissfully unaware of how our 33 year marriage was about to be tested. Most who know me
know I’m not a great passenger under the best of circumstances, let alone on a road narrow enough that, had the window been down, would have hedges whip my face and stone walls that were, well, right there. And don’t get me started on those hedges that were just a cover for the stone wall underneath. Yes, we were warned. No, that did not help. My vocabulary consisted largely of, “Hedge!” “Wall!” “Hedge!” “Watch the mirror!” and was accompanied by me ducking a lot and throwing my
hands up over my face. We made it to the home of Jim’s friend that we were visiting and, while the atmosphere may have been a bit chilled, we were still speaking. The drive back to our hotel was equally
hair raising and my vocabulary of expletives had both expanded and gotten louder.

On Day 3, we left the town of Bray and headed down the coast on our way to Ballymaloe. My notes from the day suggested I was developing Stockholm Syndrome, “either Jim’s driving skills are improving, or I’ve just become numb to fear and terror. Could go either way.” I also referenced his patience, which was a bit of a stretch, but he was doing his best.

After a couple of days at Ballymaloe with minimal driving required, we felt ready to brave our first adventure into a metropolitan area and off we headed to Cork. Jim does get serious extra points here as the only reason we were going there was to visit a yarn shop on my list of Cool Things to See While We’re in Ireland. (Yes, “cool” is a matter of perspective, but Jim indulged me and we found the shop without too much trouble or incident. And a little (ok, maybe a lot) of yarn therapy went a long way to soothe my frazzled soul.

By now we had discovered that M roads were Motorways (divided highways, high speeds, but little to
no chance of accidentally popping over into oncoming traffic), N roads were National roads (mostly 2
lane roads but still committed to having lines painted on them, high speeds right up until the sign tells
you to calm down and you come into one of the 420 roundabouts you’ll encounter in the next 5 miles),
R roads are Rural roads (narrower 2 lane roads, lines optional, curvy little suckers), and L roads are Local
roads (considered a two lane road, reality is only a one and a half land road, no lines whatsoever, no
shoulder whatsoever – see above paragraph regarding shrubbery and rock walls – and the oncoming
locals sense fear and love a good game of Chicken). We only drove on two L roads the whole time and
that was plenty.

Day 6 notes, “Jim says the Traffic Calming signs should read Wife Needs Calming.” And here I thought I was improving.

Our last day driving (serious Hallelujah!) and we felt cocky enough to not only brave some more Rural
and potential Local roads, but also to try and find Biddy Early’s cottage (b: 1798, d: 1874, a Wise
Woman, look her up, it’s worth the read). Between our GPS, my phone and our physical maps, we had
become fairly adept at navigation. However, to locate a 200+ year old relic of a stone cottage with no
physical address, we had the following directions:

“From Feakle, take the road about 5-10 minutes, pass a farmhouse, look for a gate with missing
bars on your left and the path is across on the right. Steep and muddy.”

So just a few items of information missing here: a) which direction from Feakle? Actually, which freakin’
road from Feakle? b) pass a farmhouse. As if there’s only one. c) gate with missing bars on your left and
the path is across on the right. Horizontal bars? Vertical bars? Is the gate even still there?
We found Feakle on the map and figured out which road was likely our best bet. We also figured out
we’d be coming from the opposite direction, so reverse everything and take a wild guess on the timing.
Believe it or not, we actually saw the gate on the first pass and saw a string across the path entrance on
the other side. Score! Not so fast as you’ll notice the phrase “first pass.” It took us three more passes to
find a place to park on a narrow farm road with nothing but curves and our healthy respect for private
property combined with not wanting to block a drive or gate. That didn’t leave many options. We finally did what the locals do and just picked a place where we could get hallway off the road, not in a ditch, and hopefully far enough along a blind curve that the rental car wouldn’t get smacked while we were gone. The path wasn’t too steep, but definitely muddy and soggy. Not very far up was the cottage, so well overgrown with ivy that I was stunned Jim spotted it. We spent some time there, a magical spot, and left behind a couple of crystals we’d brought with us to leave as an offering. Walked back to find the car intact and high-fived on the success of our adventure.

We returned the car outside of Galway – navigation failed us horribly there as it was an office park and
access driveways were a bit dicey. Only a couple of, shall we call them recon trips, around the loop and
we made it in. Extra points for mirrors and hubcaps all accounted for and still attached and no mention
of the slight but new shrubbery induced pinstriping.

Seriously, the trip itself was beyond incredible – even taking into account the driving adventures – but I
was never so happy to get in a cab and then spend four days “recuperating” at a luxury castle. Well
planned. Well planned, indeed. And we’ll go back in a heartbeat and do it all again.Road sign in Ireland

Hedge! Or, How to Test a Marriage by Driving in Ireland
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