On two occasions I drove diagonally across Ireland using local roads. It was rewarding though tiring.
The first trip went from the south east, Wexford, to the north-west, Sligo. We drove in the middle of winter in my much-missed base-model 1990 Peugeot 205. What could have been a four-hour trip via Dublin on the main roads took about eight but we got to see corners of Ireland by-passed by the 20th century. It was rather a long time ago now (1993) so I can’t provide a great deal of detail. What stands out though was
the continual interest of the drive where I experienced what is termed flow. That is precisely the state of engaged interest where skills and challenge are in equilibrium. This is not what happens on a motorway where for the most part the mental state is that of boredom with occasional moments of blind panic when something unexpected happens such as a truck pulling out suddenly.
More recently, 2011, I travelled from the south-west, Kerry, to Dublin. A rather tired Opel Astra saloon served us and managed rather well despite its reputation as being less than delightful to drive. The car’s well-judged suspension and the famous few degrees of slop around the straight-ahead eliminated the tiring jostling that the lumpy and randomly patched roads of Ireland are notorious for.
The route parallels the N21 and features almost no major towns. Indeed, it features very little of the scarring that the Celtic Tiger inflicted upon the landscape in the form of suburban housing estates that lack an urb to be sub to. There are one or two ghost estates but only one or two.
For trips across Ireland I always take with me an ancient AA road book. From the middle 60s, these books are a remarkable fossil of life before motorways. Each city and every small town gets an entry. These are accompanied by statistics and an etymology of the place-name. Elegant line drawings show the main historic landmarks you can stop and inspect. I use these to find interesting picnic locations.
My favourite is an old church ruin on a former island somewhere after Adare (we also stop in Adare where there is a super hotel to get some coffee, the Dunraven Arms) You need to take several turns off the main road and go down a gravel road to find the ruin. It’s not signposted. The site used to be a monastery surrounded by a lake which is now silted up and is a marsh land where sheep graze.
The north-west route eventually peters out 30 miles from Dublin where it becomes almost impossible to avoid getting vacuumed onto one of the main arterial roads. At this point one must stop to consult the map every five minutes and keep one’s eyes peeled for the haphazard road signs that serve only to confuse wanderers and deter the unwary.
Such a trip takes about nine hours when the use of the main roads might take five or seven, depending on traffic. Like the Wexford-Sligo route, this way back is demanding: sudden corners, plenty of small villages and the hazard of slow-moving trucks with no opportunity for safe overtaking.
However, I would do it again as it afforded a chance to get deeply into the process of conducting the car, exercising my skill and seeing some of Ireland which, in many other areas, has been ravaged by thoughtless construction and the careless spoliation of otherwise agreeable and ancient landscapes.