Finding Gerrard Sloey’s House
By the time we reached Ardara, the GPS had quit trying to pinpoint our location and lapsed into silence. I couldn’t blame it: coming this far into the Irish boondocks meant you either knew the terrain or had ignored directions so thoroughly that further electronic rerouting was naïve at best and Sisyphean at worst.
Maybe this is why Sloey wouldn’t give us his address, I thought. It’s no good out here anyway.
I turned to my girlfriend, Dominga. I was glad to have a companion. The last time I’d come to Ireland, my sister spent most of the trip nostrils-deep in a tank top pilfered from her boyfriend, alternately sniffing at and sobbing into it each night before bed. To avoid that same flavor of romantic anguish, I’d brought Dominga with me this time for olfactory support. We flew overnight from Boston with my family, and, upon arrival, the eight of us piled into a car for the ride from Dublin Airport to our hotel. What should’ve been a 15-minute drive became a circuitous, hour-long debacle: Hebert Road and Hebert Street are, apparently, very different things. By the time we checked in, it was only for Dominga’s benefit that my parents weren’t drawing blood.
“I’m happy we’re getting our own car,” I said to her. The plan was to spend a couple days in Dublin, drive north to say hi to my Irish family, then split off from the fellowship and go our own way. Dominga agreed: navigating alone would be easy.
The trek from Dublin to our rental house in County Donegal should take three hours, but that’s not accounting for wrong turns, bathroom breaks, photo ops, and a pit stop in Northern Ireland to purchase Ultimate Road Trip Songs, Volume II. By the time we arrived—nearly five hours after our departure—we were tired and hungry and had no idea where to lay our hats.
The last communique from the man renting us his house had come in the form of a brief, late-night email: Once you get to Ardara, stop off and ask someone where Gerard Sloey lives. That was it. No address, no directions. Just the directive to stop off—Stop off where? we wondered—and ask a stranger for help. Would that work? Ardara isn’t the biggest haystack, but a needle’s still a needle.
The town is nestled two miles inland amid sheep-speckled hills, its geography bisected by a main thoroughfare of pubs and shops. It was on this artery we found ourselves now, Dominga driving slowly, each of us peering out at the soggy street. Maybe if we looked hard enough, we thought, a clue would emerge. No such luck.
“What do you think?” I said. “Should we try it?”
Dominga shrugged. “What other choice do we have?”
We picked a pub and I went in. Just what you’d expect: chipped wooden stools, low ceilings, mugs dangling from hooks. The pub’s only customer looked at me once, then resumed his glum ingestion of beer and soccer. The bartender raised an eyebrow.
“I have a weird question,” I said. “I’m staying here, I’m renting a house—” I paused to gather myself. It’s strange to be a Yankee abroad. You have to be hyper-aware of your behavior. Don’t ramble, don’t shout, don’t do anything foolish to reinforce the too-true myth of Ugly Americans. “I was told to stop off and ask someone for directions. I’m renting from a guy named Gerard Sloey.”
There was a beat where I thought the bartender would tell me to get lost. He and his customer exchanged a glance. Then a broad smile took his face and he pulled out his phone.
“Gerry Sloey? He’s probably at mass. Let me text him.”
I left the bar grinning. “Well?” Dominga said.
“It worked. Up around the bend, over the bridge, fifth or sixth house on the right. White with blue shutters.”
We did a few passes of the house before turning into the driveway. This must be it. We parked and I got out. Peering in the windows, I felt uncertainty make its steady approach. Nobody was home. It didn’t look like a rental property. Had we been given bad intelligence? I was ready to retreat. It would be easy: book a room at a B&B, email the guy, apologise for wires getting crossed.
But then he came careening around the bend, braking just enough to shout “I’m Gerry! Follow me!” and darting off down the road.
The GPS remained dizzy and disoriented during our stay in Ardara, but we shed our anxiety after that final navigational hiccup. I reluctantly confess it was strange to rely on humans for direction—we were used to Google Maps. But nobody in Ardara would ever confuse Hebert Road with Hebert Street, and it’s far more pleasant enduring a bartender’s gentle amusement than the computer’s solemn (and often wrong) You’ve reached your destination.
Cover by Jesse Bowser