The Rules of Irish Navigation

20140714_220616If you are from a normal country and have ever spoken to a person who has driven in Ireland or the UK, then you asked something like this: “Ooh, how was driving on the other side of the road?”

Depending on the temperament or experience of the driver, you might expect a variety of answers. The person answering might exhale shakily and say: I still wake up in a cold sweat screaming ‘stay on your left!’ They might put on a thousand yard stare and ask to be left alone for a while. If they are of a heartier intestinal fortitude or perhaps once maneuvered a tank through a minefield in combat, then they might underplay the deed, You get used to it, or straight up blow it off, Oh, it’s no problem.

Whatever they say, the driver of the car through Ireland is not the real hero. The real man of the hour is the copilot.

Strange? Not really. OK, yes, the pilot has to worry about keeping to the left, driving from the right, shifting with his left, and keeping everyone inside the car, and some people outside the car, alive. But the copilot’s duties are to obey the rules of Irish navigation.

In the first place, there is general navigation. The pilot is concerned with the road (Stay left), and Ireland’s road system is a glorified dirt path, so the copilot has to be able to navigate his car in the right direction. First and foremost, this means learning and using this mantra anytime anything occurs anywhere for any reason:

Left side. Left side. Left side.

But it also includes reading maps and figuring out where the hell to go. And when you add roundabouts, signs in Gaelic, the often lackadaisical placement of those signs, and Irish weather, this is a full-time job.

My duties were often shrieking Go right! or Go left now! And then simultaneously praying to a deity I don’t believe in, apologizing to the pilot, and bracing for impact. On the bright side, this has turned out a new word: praypologizing. Let’s lobby Webster.

Irish roads are tiny, steep, and full of blind spots because of the aggressive lush greenery that makes Ireland so beautiful to look at on a calendar, but a real bitch when you’re in a car. As if the tiny roads were not enough to keep us alert and paranoid, every now and then – every 9 miles – we had to drive through a town. Driving through a town adds people, cars parked on both sides, and the likely possibility of crashing over a bridge and into a body of water.

The copilot’s job while driving through an Irish town depends on what you have to do there. If you are simply driving through, then the copilot has to read signs and figure out which insanely strange turn you have to make on a road built for Leprechauns riding Terriers. When that is accomplished, then you either apologize for getting your vehicle lost again or you put the side mirror back into its original position. Or both.

If you are staying in that town, then the copilot’s job is finding the address of your accommodation. This is tougher than it sounds, since most times you drive into an Irish town you have to go through the center and that means confusion. It also means the lure of the Guinness sign. Moreover, when it comes to streets, the Irish love two things. First, they love not naming them. Second, even if they do name a street, they seem to enjoy giving that street two names. So if you make a left you end up on Bridge Street, if you make a right on the same street, you end up on Forest Lane. So you have to look with great intensity at the place where street names usually exist. And after you get lost and you alternate between your map and the nonexistent street names so much that you look like a giraffe eating grass, you will have to ask people directions. Besides the famous Irish lilt, you will have to negotiate words like Cloonmonad and Dunfanaghy.

And even if you find the right street and the right area, you still may not find your accommodation since many places name their house rather than give it a number. Or, they are in Gaelic, (you know who you are, Cloonmonad House).

When all fails, you navigate yourself and your pilot to the closest pub.

Other skills you need to be a competent copilot are as follows. You have to be able to give moral support and to keep your wincing at a quiet minimum. You need to relax your body language, since being on the left side of the car is highly unnatural and you pass mere centimeters from people, ancient walls, and trees, you are instinctively drawn to the right in your seat. This may or may not give your driver the impression that you want to kiss him on the neck. You also need to read a map, anticipate quirks in the road, and always keep an eye out for a place to pee. And you need to mention new features of the road and you have to do it casually. This is a nice town, curb. What a great farm, sheep. This is a cool road…think those cows are crossing?

But the first rule of Irish navigation is mastering this mantra:

Left side. Left side. Left side.

  1. #1 by leslie donovan on July 31, 2014 - 11:06 pm

    As someone who both piloted AND copiloted her family through Ireland for two weeks I couldn’t agree more. Just be thankful that my dad wasn’t muttering at you from the back seat.

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