Theme: Roads – Across Ireland as the Crow Drives

On two occasions I drove diagonally across Ireland using local roads. It was rewarding though tiring.

1960 AA Road Atlas of Ireland. Invaluable if you don´t want to use sat nav.
1960 AA Road Book of Ireland. Invaluable if you don’t want to use sat nav.

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

Ardtarmon House, Sligo. You can stay here once you´ve driven across Ireland from Dublin. It´s very nice.
Ardtarmon House, Sligo. You can stay here once you’ve driven across Ireland from Dublin. It’s very nice.

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.

Image: gotoireland.com
Image: gotoireland.com

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.

2015 boggeragh-mountains-road-looking-south

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.

A car. It´s a car blog so we have to have a car.
A car. It’s a car blog so we have to have a car.

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.

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

11 thoughts on “Theme: Roads – Across Ireland as the Crow Drives”

  1. Thanks Richard, this is also my favourite mode of travelling. I used to solely use maps as well, but for an even better experience of flow I mostly do use satnav these days. Switch it to “avoid motorways” or, even better, “shortest route” (not by any means the fastest option!) and you’ll have the freedom to focus on the driving and on what’s around you while Susie or Eve guides you. The car doesn’t really matter indeed, although I prefer my Saab 96 V4. Nearly as good as cycling with the benefit of being able to cover greater distances.

  2. Cycling is optimum for me. You can cover 140 km in a day so you really do see a lot. I like the maps as a kind of “handicap”. You have to keep the directions in mind. It would be great to have a real navigator but none of my co-passengers has ever had the slightest competence with a map.

  3. I too use satnav when touring for safety/convenience sake, but really I’d prefer to use maps which give you a much better idea of the journey you’re making rather than what’s happening between here and the next junction. I tend to keep Susie and Eve muted, but their bleeping friend who reminds you of speed cameras can be helpful – though why am I going so fast that I need that?

    On Ireland, one of the nicest surprises for me was the Antrim coast road right next to the sea.

  4. Does it matter to know where you’ve been? Often not for me and if I want to know there’s always a map in my door pocket.

  5. It does. I like to be able to remember what I have seen. One time I cycled at a brisk pace for a whole day, photographing as I went. On reviewing the photos I realised I could not remember what I had looked at as I had been so focussed on forward motion. It defeated some of the point of the journey.

  6. I don’t take many photos either. I like to enjoy something when I’m there. Recording, tracking and logging, the diseases of this era, easily spoil the moment; no matter if you’re enjoying a good gig or a gorgeous landscape.

    1. My approach is the opposite. I am Mr Archive. I have a terrible memory and acute sense of the passing of time along with the fragility of the human condition. Memory and identity are … you can see where I off to on this. I had special boxes made for my photo collection. I imagine my kids will find this makes it all really easy to throw away when my retirement ends.

  7. Satnav has a nice Route Demo function. This allows you to experience the complete journey in real-time, without leaving the safety of your home. If you need photos, you can usually find some on Google Earth.

  8. You should see my archives Richard! I even seriously considered becoming a librarian or an archivist when I was in school. However, I found it often doesn’t matter if you forget details. If my only recollection of something is that I had a good time, that’s enough. It gives me peace of mind not to be like the Japanese tourist blocking trams in Amsterdam while filming the holiday he’s about to have when back home. Also people filming concerts with their phones: why?

    1. The concert filming peope are a puzzle. They really are not there, are they? David Foster Wallace wrote about a man on a week long ocean cruise who he called Captain Video. It´s in a good essay in a book called “Supposedly fun things I will never do again”. It´s readable unlike later DFW work. Or any of his other work, actually.

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