The Coach Isle

I know, I know — Ireland is supposed to be The Emerald Isle and not the Coach Isle and truly, it is green – very green — there are at least forty different shades of it – just ask Johnny Cash.  But truly, allow me the indulgence of temporarily re-branding the poetic name as is more accurate.

We’ve been on the island of Ireland and Northern Ireland for about two weeks now, arriving first in Belfast in the north and making our way south around the two countries and finally to Dublin.

Before we left Seattle to begin our journey we purchased two Eurorail passes, one universal country that has already been used and the second, a four country pass including Spain, France, Benelux, and Ireland.  What a total waste of money!  There is no real, connecting rail system in Ireland.  We’ve been able to take the trains just twice.  Once from Belfast to Portrush in the north and the second time from Killarney to Dublin – which is where we actually initiated our pass because otherwise it would have cost us nearly 70 euro each for the privilege of the four and a half hour journey.  By bus it would have taken six hours.

Most of the smaller towns in Ireland (and most of them are smaller towns in Ireland) are not even connected by rail whether due to an overall lack of infrastructure or, in Derry’s case, intentional governmental moves to punish them and reward the nearby unionist towns.

We spent a lot of time debating about whether or not to rent a car in Ireland or if we should just bus it.  None of our credit cards would cover car rentals on the island and buying the comprehensive coverage would have doubled the cost of renting.  Ireland has one of the highest per capita number of car accidents and the roads are truly horrendous.  We liked to joke about how they took a one lane road and turned it into two.  When they thought to add a stripe down the middle the road looks just like a bicycle lane.  Seriously.

Watching the tour buses and tourist cars playing chicken was funny – but only when you’re on the tour bus.  Oh yeah and I lost count of how many times the tour bus went around a hair-raising horseshoe turn overlooking a cliff with no guard rails.  To save ourselves the stress of driving and navigating these tiny roads, we opted for public transit and coach tours to see the more remote sites on the island.  Most of the “in-between” rides we had to take took about five hours – yes five hours – on a bus.  Now, I’ve done some bus traveling in my days – about 32 hours between San Antonio, TX and Spartanburg, SC by Greyhound.  But still.  It was a bit crazy and there were times I had to fight back motion sickness but we made it.  We did at least five or six days of straight bus travel with a combination of these five hour journeys on public buses combined with day trips to remote locations that last about eight hours and yes – we paid about the same for all of them – between 23 and 25 euros per person, whether guided or not.

So, I have just a little bit of advice to give.  If you go to Ireland, do not waste your money on a Eurorail pass and think twice or even thrice before renting a car, but be prepared to spend a lot of time on a bus – it is the Coach Isle after all.

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