Irish road signs
January 30, 2003 5:49 PM   Subscribe

Ireland's road signs are notorious for getting travellers lost, but the Irish government has announced that it will finally do something about it.
posted by mcwetboy (22 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Having driven in Ireland ( around and in Dublin ), I can heartily relate to these articles.

Driving in Dublin itself was hard. The signs in Dublin are on the sides of buildings, up on what we Americans call the second floor, and difficult to read in any circumstance. Plus, there's a big river in the center of town that has to be crossed at one of several bridges for you to get any where.

Outside of Dublin, the roads were wide enough for one and half cars but driven as though they were made for two. Plus, road signs? Better to stop and ask ( several times ) than trust most of the road signs.

Its also a source of amusement for the natives: I was told by one that I could get any where I wanted in Ireland if I only knew how to make a U-turn.
posted by dragonmage at 6:39 PM on January 30, 2003

I cycled around Ireland one year. The proper thing to do is drop in to the pub for directions - it pays to get lost often.
posted by rotifer at 7:11 PM on January 30, 2003

Our honeymoon was in Ireland, and we experienced this phenomenon. Harrowing at first, I found myself enjoying the narrow streets and excessive signage by the time we left.
posted by bhorling at 7:31 PM on January 30, 2003

----------         ______
REST AREA \       /      \500 M     /      |       ||
----------       | R.I.P.||
                 |       ||
               ,.|,   , ,||,.

I have the Irish photo, but haven't looked at it for years, but you get the idea.
posted by holloway at 7:45 PM on January 30, 2003

(weird, seems that the preview code is different to the post code, as it still looks fine in preview)
posted by holloway at 7:46 PM on January 30, 2003

A particular favorite for theft is the sign to one County Kerry village that reads, "Inch, 1 mile."
*looking through old stuff; Hmmm I though I had that one!*

I understand they need to fix the roads and they are working on it, but why change the road signs (or put new ones)? The locals know the place, they do not need them. For the tourists? That's a loss! Ireland is one of the few places where you can have an unexpected (on top of the paid, thus expected) and safe (no lions, no adrenalin rush) adventure inside your car! Why would you want to take that away? I'm serious here! Indeed, the tourists are complaining, but when they get home what are they going to talk about?
posted by MzB at 8:04 PM on January 30, 2003

The irony here, which you can't see unless you follow the story, is that the Dublin signage project last year -- alluded to at the end of the article mcwetboy posted -- was a poorly-received failure by many accounts. Dublin, you see, can't have any modern freeways or boulevards built through it, so to manage traffic flow they designed a modern signage system -- and then, through bureaucratic mindset on the one hand and devious boffin arrogance on the other, designed it to mislead drivers -- as some thought. That is, signs would tell you to go one way, if that was better for traffic flow, and not another, even if that was the way you knew would get you there. (One is, of course, free to ignore the signs.) Then, just for good measure, they went with the 'An Lar' designation instead of 'City Centre', even though everybody knew this would completely baffle tourists.

I don't know for certain what a sensible improvement would be, but this may not actually be it. Ultimately, Dublin needs a mass transit system, but that is years away.
posted by dhartung at 8:16 PM on January 30, 2003

What rotifer and MzB said. It's fun getting lost there. Tourists shouldn't be in a hurry anyway.
posted by muckster at 8:28 PM on January 30, 2003

Funny. I was just there a few weeks ago and drove from County Kerry up to the Galway area and didn't have much trouble with the signs. Of course, since they have rotarys (a.k.a. roundabouts) instead of normal intersections, you can just drive around in a circle again and again until you figure out which way to go. I suppose its probably worse in Dublin though.

What they really need to do over there is widen the roads. People drive 70 mph on roads that are barely wide enough for two cars to pass each other and stone walls on either side. Nothing like having large deadly objects passing within inches of you at 140 mph.
posted by boltman at 12:12 AM on January 31, 2003

My favourite Irish road-signing practice is the 4 pronged sign at crossroads - OK if you want to turn right or left but you can't see where straight on goes until you are past it. Pure Genius ;o)
posted by jontyjago at 12:49 AM on January 31, 2003

As a recent grateful recipient of Irish citizenship by descent, I object heartily to the entire concept, even from Illinois.

Our Irish rental car had the advantage of already having the left mirror intact with the plastic molding around it conveniently already smashed to pieces, so I drove around with the secure knowledge that I could snuggle right up those walls knowing that my Hertz sheet said "left mirror already broken". Very liberating.

We got lost lots and loved it. I just wish the wife would have been more comfortable with right hand drive, since I saw so many places I would have loved to have stopped for directions.

Did you know the Vikings conquered every place they went until they got to Ireland, conquered it, and were never heard from again?
posted by dglynn at 1:35 AM on January 31, 2003

As a native who divides my driving time evenly between the countryside (i.e where I live, in the West of Ireland) and Dublin (i.e where I have to do a lot of work-related stuff), I have found that the secret to getting to where you want to go is:

A) in the countryside, point the front of your [tiny] rental car in the general direction of where the map says your destination is, close your eyes and put your foot down hard. Thereafter, the bumping, clattering and splashing sounds you will hear are merely minor obstacles e.g cows, sheep, stone walls, ditches, lakes, hills and so on. I guarantee you'll get to where you're going in one-third of the time. Irish cars don't look battered for purely aesthetic reasons, y'know.

B) in Dublin and other cities (we have more than one!) signposting really is an utter farce, so the key is just to keep driving. In any direction at all. If you stop, your car will probably be stripped of it's component parts within seconds. Eventually, you'll stumble into where you want to be.

It was unfortunate that mcwetboys Glabe and Mail article quoted Kevin Myers of all people. Myers is a dickhead journalist who simply can't resist stirring shit, even on items as mundane as signposting - I and a hell of a lot of others certainly wouldn't regard Irish/Gaelic as a dead language - I couldn't do my job without it! Neither would he, if he just ventured beyond Dublin and London every now and again. Anyway, that's neither here nor there, I suppose.......

(P.S Bhorling - hope you enjoyed Ballyvaughan, I just came back from having an (extremely cold) swim there this morning!)
posted by Doozer at 2:23 AM on January 31, 2003 [1 favorite]

Sure an' begorrah*, as an Irishman myself, my favourite thing with the whole sign mess here is the Yield sign.

There are three variants - all on the basic upside-down triangle with the red border.

a) the sign that says "Yield - Give Way".
b) the sign that says "Geal SlĂ­" (pronoucned "g-yal shlee" - Irish for "give way")
c) the sign that says nothing at all.

My second favourite - the speed limit signs in built up areas that are about the size of a dinner plate - which means you can't see them if you don't know they're there.

We suck at anything automotive. It's a joke.
And we're only now changing our insane driving permit rules...but that's another rant for another day.

*We don't really say that here. But as the story is about Irish quaintness, I thought it appropriate.
posted by tomcosgrave at 3:12 AM on January 31, 2003

Let's hope Boston is next.
posted by luser at 6:41 AM on January 31, 2003

As a recent grateful recipient of Irish citizenship by descent

So you were recently... born?

I and a hell of a lot of others certainly wouldn't regard Irish/Gaelic as a dead language - I couldn't do my job without it!

I don't think the point is that it's dead (though it's been on artificial respiration for a long time), the point is that it's useless for directing people, which is the point of a sign. Cherokee isn't dead either, but if NYC street signs were in Cherokee there would be vigorous complaining, and rightly.
posted by languagehat at 8:27 AM on January 31, 2003

Irish cars don't look battered for purely aesthetic reasons, y'know.

You just decribed my 10 days in Ireland last year. Our rental car's engine screamed whenever we went over 60K and the whole car felt like it was going to shake itself to pieces. And it was only a year old.

Beautiful pictures Bhorling, I'll have to dig out our photo albums when I get home.
posted by smcniven at 9:38 AM on January 31, 2003

languagehat, citizenship by descent:

"Anyone born outside Ireland, whose father or mother was born in Ireland, is an Irish citizen"

"Anyone born outside Ireland, whose father or mother is an Irish citizen not born in Ireland, can become an Irish citizen by having his or her birth entered in the Irish Register of Foreign Births at the Department of Foreign Affairs in Dublin or at the nearest Irish diplomatic or consular mission."

"For individuals applying for registration, the usual situation is one where citizenship derives from an Irish-born grandparent."

"Irish law permits dual citizenship and does not require applicants to renounce any other citizenship held at the time of application."
posted by dglynn at 11:24 AM on January 31, 2003

I've always found the Irish road signs kind of amusing. At least, I did until we met the hiking path sign cleverly disguised as a road sign. Sure, the going was no trouble for a few hundred yards, but backing down the side of a fairly steep slope with a huge dropoff on the side in order to get back to the lay-by is only fun for a couple of seconds.

Still, provided us with a good story for everyone when we got back.
posted by aine42 at 11:26 AM on January 31, 2003

Not to mention the wonderful fun we had and roads we drove while following the road signs to and from historical sites, like Thoor Ballylee, aine42.
posted by crystalblue at 12:14 PM on January 31, 2003

Thanks for the explanation, dglynn—you must admit it sounded a little odd!
posted by languagehat at 1:42 PM on January 31, 2003

My wife and I took a 3 week trip to ireland, our honeymoon, in june. We drove the whole country including dublin and found the signs hilarious but never had a problem finding anything, at least not compared to any other country. And if we were lost locals were always quick to help.

Besides, the few times we did get lost were always enjoyable adventures. So for charm and character, I wish they'd leave them alone.
posted by justgary at 3:34 PM on January 31, 2003

Languagehat, it is odd. I can become an Irish citizen because my grandfather was born in Ireland? Okay....

Lots of people reacted as if they were vaguely insulted when I told them I was applying for Irish citizenship(shortly after 9/11, by coincidence). I explained that I had to grab it because the laws for citizenship for spouses was changing, so it was now or deal with problems later, and if they were still looking at me funny I would tell them it allowed me to work in EU countries as an EU citizen, and gave me better job prospects, and usually that they understood and thought was a real good reason, and all was forgiven.

Apparently I was sort of treasonous until I told them there might be money involved, and then it was OK with them. Us Americans are a funny people.
posted by dglynn at 7:56 PM on January 31, 2003

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