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228. IRISH ROADS

I had heard of Irish roads way back in the 1960s in Australia when someone with Irish background told me once in earnest that: "Irish roads were designed and made only by people coming out of a pub". This phrase used to make other people laugh but as a newcomer to Australia I did not see the joke.

In Ireland since January 2013 and driving around for four months now I start seeing the joke!

The latest motorways are fine, wide and with a flat tarmac, fairly straight, with spacious shoulders on the sides, and financed by the EU kitty for roads across Europe. The Irish country roads, however, have definitely been designed and made by people coming out of a pub, mainly... if not all. They are as sinuous as can be whether on hills or on the flat. They are as narrow as can be stuck between hedges of prickly bushes such as gorse, without any space for shoulders so that you just can't pull up on the side in emergency. I found I could not stop to take a photo. Very often as I was driving slower than the busy other drivers I wanted to pull up and let the faster traffic overtake. It took miles before I could vaguely pull up in front of a gate with a dangerous swerve.

Anyway at the public library recently I found the answer to this state of affairs. Apparently it has a very very old origin. A million years ago the island called Ireland now was totally covered with ice, much like Antarctica is now. Ice Age lasted for donkeys years until one day when it started melting away. It took a few thousand years to uncover this bit of territory and then, what did you find under the ice... sinuous roads. My word!

Quoted from: A History of Ireland in 250 Episodes, by Jonathan Bardon, Gill and Macmillan, 2008

p.1 "The ice sheets began to dissolve about 15,000 BC, and two thousand years later they had all but disappeared. (...) Meltwater flowing under the ice left behind sinuous ridges of gravels, known as eskers; often several miles long and up to twenty metres in height, these provided invaluable routeways later on across the boggy midlands."

Invaluable routeways across the boggy midlands. The inhabitants of Ireland have always traveled on sinuous, gravelous routeways across their country. Straight roads with broad shoulders is a stupid idea of the Romans.

And yes, there is another explanation. I found, reading the History of Plantagenet England by Michael Prestwich, that inhabitants of islands in general use the sea to go from one place to another on the coast of their island.

This is a very strange idea to a continental reader. From Normandy to Aquitaine, for instance, an islander's first thought is to sail around. For the French or any other continental thinking person you build a road and a good road too. I guess Irish people, like English people, have relied on sailing around rather than driving through.

It could also be the reason why, to this day, the roads are so badly maintained and cared for. When driving in the countryside or even in town you get the impression that towns and county councils administrations have no budget for road maintenance. The suspensions and the tyres of cars in this country must not last for very long.
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