Driving a (rental) car in Ireland does not need to be difficult or even dangerous - as long as you stick to the rules of the road and some basic advice. There are no more than a dozen basic things to remember. And these will become "second nature" in a few days. So don't worry, enjoy your stay. And obey the following rules:
1. Get familiar with the car's controls
Before you even hit the road, try to get a feeling for the mirror-image layout. Your left hand will operate the gearstick, your right hand open the door. Remember that the more important wing mirror is on your right, the central rear view mirror on your left. If at all possible drive a few minutes in the rental company's yard.
2. Stay on the left side of the road
This may be obvious when everybody else does - but tends to be forgotten especially after breaks, on lonely roads and in the morning. Pass traffic islands to the left. Only use a roundabout clockwise. Take a left turn when accessing a motorway and remember to join traffic on your right side. It actually helps to have a small post-it note saying "stay left" on the dashboard.
3. Get a decent map
The map you'll find in your rental car's glove box makes a nice souvenir, nothing more. For practical use invest in the Complete Road Atlas of Ireland as published by Ordnance Survey Ireland. This will not only show you even the smallest country roads but also all places of interest.
4. Get to know the road signs
If you have the OSI-Mapbook you’ll find a section on signage. While warning signs in Northern Ireland are generally to international standards, those in the Republic tend to be more parochial. Don’t worry: Most if not all are understandable without problems. Direction signs will be in blue for major routes (motorways), green for national roads and white for local roads. Places of interest are signposted by brown (NI: black) signs with white lettering.
5. Respect the right of way
At unmarked crossings the car from the right (!) will have right of way, the same goes for cars already in a roundabout. In the Republic yellow signs with black markings will give instructions at marked crossings - a graphic approximation of the layout with thick lines denoting the right of way, thinner lines representing roads that have to yield. Additional stop signs or markings on the road surface will help you.
6. Don't run out of gas
Gas stations can be few and far between in rural areas with almost none of them offering 24/7-service. It is a good idea to refill once your tank is half empty. Remember that not all gas stations will take credit cards.
7. Pick the Right Pump!
It might sound really basic and stupid - but make sure to fill your tank with the right stuff. Especially if you are from the USA. Whereas at many US gas stations the pump handles for Diesel are green, a green handle denotes unleaded petrol in Ireland. Always read the label. And if you make the mistake of filling up with the wrong fuel: Do not start the car, push it to the side and contact your car rental company immediately. They'll put you into contact with a mobile tank-cleaner ... costly, but way cheaper than losing the engine.
8. Avoid illegal parking
More and more towns are outsourcing parking control to private companies which are keen to be seen as efficient. This means that illegally parked cars will be quickly immobilised by clamps or even towed away and only released after a hefty fee is paid. In some designated areas in Northern Ireland an illegally parked car may be subject to a "controlled explosion". Any fees (or even damage) will not be covered by insurance.
The M50 orbotal around Dublin has barrier-free tolling when you cross the Liffey - and missing the payment can incur a hefty charge. Pay at a kiosk or via phone and credit card. For more information, visit our article on barrier-free tolling on the M50.
10. Expect to cover only 40 miles in an hour
When planning your day's driving schedule, don’t plan to achieve more than an average speed of 40 mph.
11. Expect the unexpected
Ireland is largely a rural country and rural traffic is the norm. Expect slow and gigantic pieces of farm machinery around every corner from March to October. Also be prepared for wildlife and pets suddenly crossing the road. Or cows and especially sheep to use it as a resting place. Even in Dublin collisions with horses are not unknown. Drive defensively.
12. Do not drive in Dublin
Parking spaces are at a premium, the traffic is slower than in New York City and nearly all sights are within walking distance of each other anyway. There should be no reason to use a car in Dublin.