My greatest irrational fear is of getting lost. All those road trips I take? Yeaaaaah, I map them out. I don’t want a wrong turn to lead me astray. One reason I take road trips is to face my fear. Someday I’ll have conquered it enough to head out with minimal prep. I’m not there quite yet.

Even with good preparation I still get lost sometimes. The worst time was on the National Road in Pennsylvania. An ill-marked detour left me driving in circles. My sons were with me, and they’ll tell you: dad was stressed.

Facing my fear of getting lost is one of the reasons I hit the road, even with good maps — or with GPS, as was the case as Margaret and I drove all over Ireland. My iPhone’s Google Maps app gave us great directions all over Ireland, except for this one time.

Among the rocks

Margaret is Irish; she has family in County Galway — family she’d never met before. A second cousin lives on an island in the county’s remote western region. It’s so far out there, and so few people live there, that all An Post needs to deliver her mail is her name, Lettermore, County Galway.

Among the rocks

Google Maps needed more detail than that, however, to find her house. We learned that she lives across the street from a business. We punched its name into Google Maps and glory be, there it was! Or so we thought. Because Google Maps brought us here.

Among the rocks

Nothing here but rocks! But it was a surprisingly compelling view. We lingered for several minutes to take it all in. We were glad to be misdirected; we would have missed this view otherwise. And although we were a little lost, just being with Margaret helped reduce my anxiety.

We went back the way we came and turned down the next road. Surely that’s what Google Maps meant? Nope. But at least there were some houses along that road. We stopped and Margaret knocked on someone’s door to ask. They knew Margaret’s cousin and gave us directions right to her front door. We had passed her house on the main road.

Margaret is a Joyce, and this is Joyce country. So is the entire Connemara region of County Galway, actually. There have been a lot of Joyces!

Margaret’s aunt was happy to meet us, and soon offered us a tour of the area. Margaret drove while her cousin navigated. One special place we saw was Inishbarra, a small island where Margaret’s grandfater was born and raised. We couldn’t drive to it; there’s no bridge, no ferry. I gather that at some times of the year the water is low enough you can wade out to it. Not that day, unfortunately. But at least we could see it from the road.

A view of Inishbarra

Here’s another view of the island, from a different vantage point. Margaret’s cousin pointed out the houses still standing on it and told us which of Margaret’s forbears lived in each one.

A view of Inishbarra

She then guided us to this church in nearby Lettermullan, where Margaret’s grandmother was baptized. This is maybe a mile from Inishbarra, but incredibly Margaret’s grandparents didn’t meet until both of them had emigrated to Chicago! It turns out that life on Inishbarra was self-contained. They grew most things they ate, and there was a school on the island. Until he emigrated, Margaret’s grandfather almost never left Inishbarra.

Church near Lettermullan

I was grateful for Margaret’s cousin guiding us down the narrow, winding coastal roads here, because I had no idea where I was or how to get out of here. The mobile signal was spotty at best this far out; Google Maps would be no help. Soon we were back on the main road, on which Margaret’s cousin lives. We soon bid our goodbyes and drove back the way we had come.

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13 responses to “The joy of wrong turns on vacation”

  1. J P Cavanaugh Avatar

    I have the opposite problem in that I tend to believe that I either know where I am at all times, or will at least be able to figure it out. I still get lost from time to time, but am always surprised when it happens. Perhaps this is related to the common male trait of asking directions only as a last resort.
    The idea of meeting distant family that I have never known is much scarier to me than getting lost. But it sounds like you had a great experience all around.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      The Joyces to which Margaret is related in Ireland have been very welcoming for years to family from the States, so we knew going in that we were welcome and wanted. That helped a lot!!

  2. Mel & Suan Avatar

    Wow. Even Google has its limits! LOL
    But indeed, sometimes you really have to make the best of the wrong turns instead of sulking about it!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I was overall astonished by how well Google Maps worked in Ireland. This is a country of sketchy addresses by US standards. But if you could find a landmark near where you wanted to go, Google Maps could find it and would get you there.

      1. Mel & Suan Avatar

        Yes we trust it for landmarks or monuments. But for address it apparently need some more work!

  3. Maureen Sudlow Avatar

    glad you didn’t miss those great shots

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      :-) Thank you Maureen! Neither Margaret nor I were thrilled to have been misdirected but we were both very happy to have experienced this picturesque place.

  4. jacullman Avatar

    What a fabulous adventure! Thank goodness google maps is not failsafe – otherwise you would miss out on connecting with long lost relatives and unexpected detours to better places!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      It was surprisingly picturesque there, for a place that’s mostly rock! Glad we didn’t miss it,

  5. Diane Martin Avatar
    Diane Martin

    Hi Jim… came across your post by accident, and a happy one at that! My grandmother was raised in one of those houses in your picture of Inishbarra, and my grandfather was from Lettermullen. I’ve stood right by that very church. I can see why you had a hard time with directions, as Americans live by ‘landmarks’… haha! I tend to ‘pre-visit’ a location before I go there by “driving’ all around using Google Maps!
    I hope you don’t mind that I share your post with several Facebook Galway Genealogy groups I belong to. We are sharing our family history and DNA results in order to make connections – the Irish diaspora. Many of us have Joyce in our DNA results and family trees, and I wouldn’t be surprised if many knew your Margaret’s great aunt! Thanks for sharing your adventure. You have some wonderful pictures.
    Diane Flaherty Martin

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Diane, I’m delighted you commented. It is a near certainty that your grandmother knew my wife’s family who lived on Inishbarra!

      I really love it that this post found a connection in you. When we visited on our trip I felt sure that few, if any, Americans had traveled there on vacation — it is hardly the kind of place you’ll find in the vacation brochures. I wonder if these are the only photos of Inishbarra on the whole Internet!

      I did get one thing wrong: it is my wife’s second cousin, not her great aunt. I corrected the text.

  6. Barbara Avatar

    What a great story! My mother is from Garumna, and I have spent many hours wandering those Connemara rocks on visits , what beauty they contain!
    How wonderful to connect with family, God puts us where we are supposed to be!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      It was wonderful to connect with my wife’s family — family she had until then only ever heard about — on our trip! And it’s wonderful that people like you stop by to say they know of this place as well.

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