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Ireland (Republic of Ireland) is a member state of the European Union but with only partial participation in the Schengen Agreement. It is a great country for hitchhiking. The recent economic upsurge has changed this situation a little bit though. But the recent and inevitable economic downturn has made the people a bit more accommodating and brotherly again.
Hitchhiking is the easiest and fastest way to travel in the countryside and in the less inhabited regions where public transportation such as train or bus is not available or it is not as frequent as a traveler might expect (one or two buses per day). You can easily get multiple lifts from one village to another for really short distances, and people are very welcoming. You can get a lift virtually anywhere, even on the smallest roads.
Most people are very happy to see backpackers hitchhiking. Even if they don't pick you up, many will motivate you by waving, honking, showing thumbs up, and so on. Drivers are very communicative here!
Long distance traveling can be a little slow, but the country isn't big. It's possible to get from one coast to the other in one day, on the national (N) roads. These roads connect cities or bigger towns in the country. Usually they lead directly into the town centers, so all the long-distance-traffic has to use them. This makes it very easy to hitch a ride at the end of town. Some bigger towns have bypasses which make it more difficult, but it's usually possible to hitch a ride to the bypass.
Some national roads have a dual carriageway, so they are similar to motorways, except that it is allowed to stand on the side of the road on dual carriageways – perfect for you, it is however dangerous in certain areas of these roads. It is technically illegal to walk or cycle on these, but the police (called guards or gards in Ireland) won't bother you.
For medium distances or short distances, stick to national secondary (R) roads, using R and N roads, you could technically get to anywhere in Ireland, but it all depends on the area. These are expanded country roads, with a lot of traffic, getting a lift/ride is, on average, easy.
It's illegal to hitch on motorways, but the Irish will still pick you up if you do it, and the police/guards aren't very likely to show up or, if they do, do more than tell you to get away. Good places to hitchhike, would be near bus stops (as there's space to park), a large driveway, but people don't mind stopping for you in the middle of a road.
On rare occasions, if drivers see you walking, they will offer you a lift/ride even if you haven't put your thumb out.
Showing your thumb is the common way to hitchhike, but using a sign (when on a national road) reduces waiting times a lot. It is recommended to put only the name of the next town on a cardboard. You will be much faster with many short rides than by waiting for a long one.
- Dublin, the capital
- Cork, second most populous city
- Galway, on the west coast, often called The party town
- Limerick, halfway point between Cork and Galway
The AA has published a very good nation-wide map. It has a scale of 1:300 000. You can get it on in main street bookshops in Ireland for about EUR 8. The road network is growing very fast at the moment (as of 2008). So make sure you have a map which is not older than a year.
An extremely useful resource for travelers and explorers is the website of the 'Ordnance Survey Ireland', who have a free (Republic of)Ireland-wide map, free to view online which goes into the minutest detail, just click into the little Ireland icon, it operates much like Google Maps. It shows all the maps one could need for traveling and also shows real-life aerial photography if you click in enough times. It also shows various archaeological or historic features such as castles, megalithic tombs, stone circles etc. in your area which you could have otherwise passed by and unfortunately missed.
Hitchhiking to and from Ireland
At the moment, it doesn't seem to be possible anymore to hitchhike ferries from the UK or France to Ireland as you usually don't pay per vehicle but per passenger. Fruupp proposes on digihitch:
- One way of doing it is to call some of the Dublin Removals companies who haul household contents to the UK and the continent. If you are going one way and are willing to work to unload one of their jobs they might hire you. They save on the fact that your trip is one way so they aren't paying per hour for the regular labor that would be returning to Ireland. Some of the freight companies might also give you passage and labor in the same way.
- Another way would be to take the DFDS Seaways ferries that leave from Dublin port (not Dun Laoghaire) or Belfast. Two ferries per day, one in the morning and one in the evening. If you can find a driver who has already paid for his car + 1, then it is possible to amend that ticket and check in with the driver for only 10 euros. It would still be paying, but on the ferry you get a dinner buffet and breakfast buffet.
- Your driver will also get a cabin with his ticket with four bunk-beds in it, so you will depending on whether your driver wants you in the cabin or not, get a night on real sheets. (Cheapest alternative I have been able to come across if you are still to do it in any legal way. Credit to SamanthaofTarth on the westeros internet forum for this initial info.)
A good way to go about finding a driver would be to start from the toll-booths at the mouth of the port. You would have to hitchhike to the terminal of DFDS anyway as there isn't a pathway for walking all the way as there is a stretch of highway is just before the terminals 1,2 and 3 (with very big ominous signs saying you are not allowed to walk there at the beginning of the highway).
- The ferry from Dun Laoghaire is more expensive as you will save only 2 euros compared to the price of a foot passenger (31 euros); however, the staff seems to be rather nice with hitchhikers and you probably can catch long rides quite easily.
Accommodation and Sleeping
All the usual hotels and hostels exist around the big touristy areas and towns, but are still quite expensive and would not be a long term solution. Camping is by far the most reliable for of long term sleeping arrangement as tucked away, empty fields can be found just minutes outside even the biggest towns. The farmers would probably appreciate your asking if you could stay but for the most part they probably wouldn't even care. Just try not to go into fields with crops or livestock and never light a fire that would be visible from a road or house. Forest fires aren't really an issue in Ireland either as it's usually so very wet. Be careful about Donegal, though, because some areas tend to be very boggy without a lot of fields. You could also try CouchSurfing for accommodation if you're interested in meeting local people. Most showers of rain in Ireland pass quickly but if you're unlucky enough to experience the weeks of drizzle and rain which can sometimes plague the country at any time of year you might need to cash out for a B&B to get a good nights sleep or to get a chance to dry out.
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