Although we got hit with a bit of rain we really enjoyed our last stop in Ireland, in a town called Kilkenny. Churches, shops, live irish folk music and a bar with everything Jackie could dream of made this a hard town to leave.
We added another UNESCO stop on our way to the Giant’s Causeway, the Brú na Bóinne. The “open air tombs” were discovered here on accident around the 1700s and its contruction predates the pyramids, over 3.5K years ago (in the Neolithic period).
During the winter solstice light enters the tomb through a small and pinpoints a spot on the far back wall of the structure. Much like Stonehenge this structure is believed to have an array of astrological significance.
It is a beautiful display of nature. In truth, the formations exists because highly fluid molten basalt mixed with chalk beds 50 to 60 million years ago. As the lava cooled contractions of the rock fractured, leaving the pillar like structures you see in the video below. But maybe – just maybe – there is a different reason altogether …
The far more entertaining explanation for the causeway is told through a legend of how a giant named Finn McCool once lived there. Many of the scenic displays are given names based on Finn’s life such as the Giant’s Shoe, The Giants Organ, and the tall basalt columns on the peak of a cliff known as his chimney. Check out the video below about Finn’s story!
U dunno have insurance here, pal!
If you plan to drive through Ireland check with your insurance company and/or credit card about what is covered before you visit.
As it turned out, our two auto insurance plans (one with our credit card and one with our regular auto insurance provider) excludes protection specifically in Ireland. Every other country in Europe is covered except Ireland.
Pay ye Toll
Stay alert. Some tolls don’t have booths, gates, or entryways, just an obscure sign on the side of the road (that look much like regular highway signs) that reads, “You must go online within 24 hours to pay your toll” with a URL at the bottom. If Jackie didn’t notice the sign we would have easily missed it.
We don’t break for Banshees
Every country has their own signature style of driving. Everyone in Italy, for example, thinks they are a pro racecar driver, and the eye in the sky keeps Australians annoyingly honest. Ireland and Scotland are a wee bit different. Sort of inbetween the two.
The average posted highway speed limits were between 100 Kph and 120 Kph. The fast lane had cars moving 20-40K faster than the posted limit and the slow lane was about 0-10K slower. There were no crazy lane changes or people cutting each other off like in Italy, but the locals have the same level of respect for letting faster folks pass.
In general the speed limits were quite high. Highways were typically between 60-70 Mph. Not too crazy, but even the small, one lane, curvy, country roads were quite high at 60 Mph as well.
Something that bothered me about Scotland was while the roads were strewn with signs warning drivers of speed cams there were few posted signs that actually let you know what the speed limit was. I guess it is just understood: if you are on a highway, drive between 60-70 Mph.
What side and what unit of measurement are we on exactly?
While driving through Ireland, Northern Ireland and Scotland we crossed through a hodgepodge of units of measurements for speed. Although all three countries drove on the left side of the road North Ireland and Scotland use the Imperial system for measurement and Ireland uses the Metric system.
This created a peculiar situation as we drove from Ireland into North Ireland. Our rental car (that we rented from Ireland) ONLY had Kph on the speedometer. Within two-seconds we went from reading signs in Kph to reading signs in Mph, followed by a whole lot of calculating what our speed should be on our phones. Talk about a crash course in conversions. (Lucky that didn’t turn into a pun. We made it out unscathed.)
Don’t get stoned
Many Irish roads are not only tight, but lined with stone walls that jut out. In a slight miscalculation I clipped the passenger side of our car on one of the narrow, curved, stone walls. (Jackie has made it hard to forget about it.) Luckily it was small enough that our rental company let it slide. Maybe this is why no auto insurance company wants to cover Ireland drivers.
Aye, that price? Not bah.
Here is a huge tip: Before coming to the area be sure you learn to drive stick! The price of a manual transmission rental car is around $20 per day. Compared that to a car with an automatic transmission at around $80 per day. As such, it can be super cheap to drive through the country and as I’ll explain below – you will most definitely want to.
THE COUNTRYSIDE IS A BEAUT!
Oh my gosh, what an amazing country side! Ireland is filled with ancient structures dating back to before the pyramids. Scotland has rolling hills filled with rocks and picture perfect lakes (AKA Lochs). The grass is emerald green and lush. You will be in awe.
If it is your first visit to either country then: Explore the south of Ireland (the Kearny loop). For Scotland make your way up to the north (AKA Highlands) and especially in the north west for majestic views of the country side.
You may not be a golfer, but many of the golf courses we saw in Scotland were worth stopping for anyway. Some are situated between amazing lakes and mountains and other straddle quaint towns. They make for a great walk, and, if you ARE a golfer, a magical round.