Ireland in the 60's by Nuala Ni Loinsigh © 2012
I was only seventeen when I learned to drive. My brother Donal had a car and my parents depended on him to drive them to Mass on Sunday morning. However, being a teacher and with his long summer holidays, he wanted to go to London and leave me the car to drive my parents.
When the saving of hay and turf was completed, Donal was free to go. Hence I was taught to drive, receiving lessons in late evening, after a day in the hayfield. Thus, I was tired before I started my lesson. However, I was instructed on the changing of gears and off we went to a level road by the halfway between Macroom and Ballyvourney, or Cork and Killarney, or Bantry and Killarney.
Sitting behind the wheel, I changed gears in the stationary position and then started the engine. After a few abortive attempts and the car jumping to a halt, I managed eventually to get going. Then there were further instructions to press the brakes but I pressed the accelerator and hit the ditch. It was only a little scrape but frightened me just the same. There were a few screams, but not too much to be fair to Donal.
There was a series of nights like this and then came the day that my brother drove to the Cork Ferry Port, to board the Innisfallen. The return journey was to be negotiated by me, who was not only a poor driver, but also not too familiar with the city. Luckily, I met my cousin Monica, who was an excellent navigator and directed me out of the city to her rural home. After dropping her off, I made my way home and parked on the L-shaped yard by the house, having struggled up the steep narrow boithrin (lane).
Mom had occasion to go out and noticed a red light on the dashboard. She remarked to me: "I don't think that light should be shining". Of course, she was right. I neglected to turn off the ignition, having ground to a halt suddenly.
The following morning, Dad needed to go to town, so his new driver was pressed into service. Starting again was jumpy and my nervous father was nearly catapulted through the windscreen. My little confidence was being slowly but surely eroded by Dad. We managed to reach the town without incident, but parked a half-mile outside.
I had plenty of practice all that summer and was delighted to have mastered the skill and gained independence. There is nothing like necessity to encourage learning.