Rules of the Irish Road (Revisited)

Directional signs in Irish and English, cars parked every which way, street names in small print on the wall. Welcome to driving in Ireland!

This post was first published way back in 2013. Recently, it came to light that a Government Minister was stopped for drink driving in 2016 and was found to be driving on a Learner Permit. He was 48 and had been driving for many years on that permit. Many years before, it had been (inexplicably) permitted to drive in Ireland on what was then called a Provisional License and people just kept renewing them, year after year. Sometimes they had failed a driving test and often they had never taken one. The law became more stringent in 2013, provisional licenses were discontinued, but multiple crackdowns have failed to convince Irish people, especially those from rural areas, to adjust their thinking. What makes my blood boil about this case is that I, who had been driving legally and safely for 40 years, was put through a rigorous, expensive and wholly unnecessary process in order to earn an Irish driver’s license, while so many people here simply ignore the law.

Update: As I was hitting the publish button, the Minister was being sacked.

The following was written and published in 2013. Since then, progress has been made and some Canadian licenses are now recognised in Ireland, with provisos.

In my Driven to Distraction post I alluded to having to get an Irish driver’s licence. I can drive legally for a year on my Canadian licence, but if I intend to stay longer, and if I want to get insurance at reasonable rates, I have to get an Irish one.

No Overtaking (Rules of the Road/RR Page 79)

I have driven for almost 40 years without incident, in all kinds of conditions (Northern Canadian winters!) and vehicles, standard and automatic. I have rented a car every summer in Ireland year after year. I was prepared for some kind of process whereby I would be asked to demonstrate my competence and my knowledge of the Irish road rules – a process which I assumed would also acknowledge my experience and skills. The first part of that last sentence was a realistic assessment; the second part was a hopeless dream. It turns out that I must start from scratch, as if I was 17, as if I had never driven before.

Double yellow lines: no parking at any time. RR p115

Perhaps, you surmise, this is because we drive on the right in Canada and in Ireland we drive on the left. But anybody with a European driving licence can simply swap it for an Irish one, no matter what side of the road they drive on. This also applies to those in possession of licences from Taiwan, New Zealand, Japan and South Korea. Within Europe, all countries have agreed to the principle of mutual recognition for all sorts of qualifications and Ireland happens to have concluded agreements with several other countries for mutual recognition of driving licences. But with the US and Canada, it has not yet happened. There are “talks” apparently, but no real progress. This also means that Irish drivers who emigrate to Canada must go through a staged testing process.

You MUST not park on a footpath. RR p116

Right – fair enough – I must prove my knowledge of the road and my driving competence. OK, theory test now passed, when can I take the road test? Wait, not so fast! First I must take, and pay for, a series of 12 driving lessons from an approved instructor. The lessons must be documented and they should occur two weeks apart: that will take six months. In the meantime, I must have L plates on the car and I cannot drive alone or on Motorways. Did you get that? I CANNOT DRIVE ALONE. I have, in effect, lost my independence. I must rely on Robert to drive me everywhere (we live three miles from the nearest village) or to sit beside me while I drive.

Unprotected quay ahead. RR p183

In a future post I will describe the lessons – a whole experience in themselves! Meanwhile, I must admit that studying the Irish Rules of the Road has been a salutary experience. I leave you with some photographs to illustrate the Irish approach to road signage and to the observation of the Rules.

Drive at a safe speed. RRp88 (photo by Amanda Clarke)

18 thoughts

  1. As a frequent visitor to the Mizen for many years, the first encounter with Ballydehob is always an adventure. I’ve learned almost every place to tuck in to avoid oncoming traffic. If I’m lucky, a large agricultural vehicle will be ahead of me so I can get right behind it as it forces the oncoming cars to the side. For parking, we just use the large lot by the playground across the river and walk over the bridge. We’re sorry we can’t visit this year as planned but hope to return many times in the future.


  2. When I was bicycle-camping/folklore collecting there in 1980, I was bemused by signs that said things like, “Thurles 6 Miles” and then 6 miles later, “Thurles 3 Miles” 🙂


  3. This made me laugh so hard!!! Like you I go to Ireland each Summer and rent a car. I was amazed when I first started driving at how the rules of the roads are more like suggestions than rules. Cars quite literally park everywhere. I am sure if I were to permanently move there I would be as frustrated as you after driving there for so many years. It is always hard to get laws changed when they are on the books for so long.


  4. Oh Finola I feel your pain, it truly beggars belief..
    Con has just reminded me that in Ireland a single yellow line means “No Parking At All”. Whereas a double yellow signifies “ No Parking At All At All”. Totally ignored in either case!


    • If you stop on a yellow line, put on your hazard lights to show that “you’ll only be a minute.” If you want to show that you will really “only be a minute” then leave your door open, thus blocking two lanes.

      We once watched in amazement as a woman parked on a double yellow, while two lanes of rush hour traffic streteched along Dublin Bay. She locked her car as people stared in disbelief, then vanished into Kilbarrack, leaving two lanes of traffic reduced to one.

      There are many more stories like that, especially when cars are abandoned on Sunday mornings. “…but I’ll be late for Mass.”


    • Unwritten “rules”: If you park on a single yellow line, leave your hazard lights on to indicate “you’ll only be a minute”. If you want to show that you’ll “really only be a minute” leave your door open and block another lane.

      Rush hour in Dublin; two lanes creeping along the bay from Sutton. People watch in disbelief as a woman parks on the double yellow and vanishes into Kilbarrack, having reduced two lanes of traffic to one.

      Sunday mornings, when people abandon cars anywhere, even triple parked, while mouthing “… but I’ll be late for Mass.” Aaaugh!


  5. Similarly, I have been driving successfully in the U.S. for nearly 45 years, and 15 years in Ireland during annual holidays. I moved to Ireland last year, so I am in the process of obtaining my “full Irish license”. It is insane that you are a perfectly acceptable driver for a year on your U.S. or Canadian license, then suddenly you must have someone with an Irish license in the car with you! My driving test was scheduled for 7April when the country shut down the end of March. Thousands of backlogged tests now burden RSA. These is no guessing when this will be sorted. I plan to write a letter to the Minister regarding licensing experienced drivers once my license is in hand, perhaps I will feel better. Did you receive a reply? Thanks for sharing your experiences!


  6. Nothing new here, we both had to do the same thing after living in Chicago USA for 20 years. It cost us each €650 approx. We have driven to New York, Florida, Wisconsin, etc and all the states in between but could not drive to the bottom of the street after coming home. It’s a system that needs massive over hauling for adults who hold full driving licenses returning to Ireland. Much point having employment established and then driving about with your mother or father or whoever has a license, bearing in mind that person needs a full license for two years. Like lots of other situations here, it needs some basic common sense applied.


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