On the Road to Kinsale

Charming Kinsale, on the southern coast of Ireland.

Charming Kinsale, on the southern coast of Ireland.

One tiny worry I had about going to Ireland was driving on the left (wrong) side of the road. Before we left, Rob and I watched videos of people driving around the Irish countryside and barreling through the roundabouts: They were absolutely hair-raising.

We spent three nights in London before flying to Dublin in late September. From there, we rented a car and drove south to Waterford and Kinsale and then west along the coast and up toward Connemara. Rob had driven in London before, so he was the first to take the wheel.

Merely getting out of Dublin was painful. We engaged the GPS unit, and soon the operative phrase was “recalculating!” We turned right when we should have turned left. We missed turns. We drove up and down streets looking for Starbucks, and Rob’s great-grandfather’s house, and, finally, the freeway so we could at last get out of Dublin. (We did find Rob’s great-grandfather’s house, which today is a preschool and the offices of a company called Torc Grain and Feed Ltd. I have video of Rob sprinkling some of his younger sister, Heather’s, ashes on the threshold.)

I learned a long time ago not to get freaked out about someone else’s driving. Honestly, Rob did a pretty good job of it, and once we got out of the city it was much smoother sailing. We drove south to Waterford that day, and stayed in a grand old hotel called The Granville Hotel on the waterfront. But it was dark when we arrived, and Rob, thinking he had plenty of time, turned in front of a poor motorcyclist and cut him off. I can’t print what the guy screamed at us as we mouthed, “I’m sorry,” through the car window. The next morning, Rob took out a couple of cones in front of the hotel as he drove up to get me and our luggage. The doorman just shook his head.

“Are you ready to try driving?” Rob asked me several times that day.

No way.

As we drove farther west and south to Kinsale, the roads got narrower and—it seemed to me—the drivers got crazier and the pace of traffic increased. We started to make fun of our female GPS, who certainly must have tired of saying, “Entering roundabout!”

Going into a roundabout while driving on the left side of the road is a special experience. Your natural tendency is to go right, but of course you have to turn left into the circle, and everyone just drives all over place. Here at home, our roundabouts mostly have implied lanes; not so in Ireland.

By the time we drove into Kinsale that afternoon, I realized I’d been holding my breath most of the day. The roads in Kinsale are all one-lane. So if you start down one street and a car comes from the other direction, one of you has to back down (or up) the street to let the other go by.

Kinsale is a beautiful harbor town on the southern tip of Ireland. When the RMS Lusitania was sunk by the Germans during World War I, many of the survivors were brought to Kinsale; a statue in the harbor commemorates the event.  

Our walking tour guide gave us a brief rundown on the rich history of this seaside town.

Our walking tour guide gave us a brief rundown on the rich history of this seaside town.

The Charles Fort, which guards Kinsale harbor, dates from the 1600s during the reign of King Charles I. James’s Fort, across the channel at the river’s mouth, also dates to the 1600s, and both were built to protect Kinsale from marauding Spanish and French forces. They strung a huge chain across the channel between the forts, which effectively tore the hulls off of invading ships.

Today, Kinsale is known more for its restaurants—and especially its delicious seafood. We stayed in a 300-year-old bed and breakfast inn called Desmond House, and fell in love with Michael, the proprietor. Sadly, Michael had just sold the inn to a couple from Dublin. We got to meet Paddy and Gordia one morning at breakfast, and came away feeling we had made some wonderful new friends. We know we’ll stay at Desmond House again should we return.

“Do you want to drive?” Rob asked the next morning.

We planned to drive the Ring of Kerry that day. I figured, what the heck.

“Sure.”

It was easier than I expected. Most of the rental cars in Ireland are manual shift, and I’ve owned two stick shift cars in the past. While sitting on the right side of the car was disconcerting, at least the pedals are the same: accelerator on the right, clutch on the left, brake in the middle. The stick shift was on the left, but it didn’t take long to get used to it. Now, Rob drove a little closer to the left side of the road, and that seemed a natural consequence of the change. I found myself gently reminding him he was a little too close to the hedges on the left. But I did not freak out.

Rob, on the other hand, could not stop reminding me that I was way too close to the left side of the road. “Look out!” he kept yelling. I may have gently grazed some bushes on the side of the road once or twice, but did that require wild gesturing and screaming?

Really?

He drove the rest of the trip.

Next: The Dingle Peninsula and the West Coast of Ireland