Mulligan receives a nickname in the novel's opening sentence,
but several paragraphs later he mentions that his actual given
name is Malachi. He follows this up by remarking that Malachi
Mulligan sounds "Tripping and sunny like the buck himself."
The phrasing here is intriguing: why should Mulligan speak of
himself as the buck? An answer can be found in
Ireland's Georgian past, when swashbuckling young dudes
sometimes called bucks roamed the streets of Dublin,
anticipating in their well-dressed, aristocratic way the
American Wild West.
18th century Dublin had clubs or gangs of young Protestant
gentlemen who walked about the city armed with swords and
pistols, defying the authorities by regularly engaging in
duels and other energetic acts. Among them were groups called
the Bucks, the Cherokees, the Pinking Dindies, the Shams, and
the Fire Eaters. Oliver Gogarty's biographer Ulick O'Connor
observes that this tradition "flourished side by side with the
passionate oratory and patriotic spirit of the Anglo-Irish
Parliament in College Green. The legend lived on in the novels
of Charles Lever, and in the street ballads which recorded
their feats and escapades." O'Connor notes that "The Bucks'
Castle (the Hell-fire Club) can still be seen on a hill-top
near Dublin. Here they galloped in the evening dressed in red
and black, the devil's livery, not so much to show their
sympathy with Satanism, as their contempt of superstition." He
agrees with Stephen Gwynn that "Dublin never quite left the
eighteenth century, and there were vestiges of this tradition
extant in the city in the Edwardian age" (41).
Mulligan's nickname, O'Connor infers, shows that Joyce saw
Gogarty as "a descendant of the Bucks, a primrose-vested
gallant against the picaresque society of lower middle class
Dublin.... There is an elegance and panache about Gogarty as a
young man that is reminiscent of the Bucks. Like them he
seemed to relish danger for its own sake" (42). In addition to
Mulligan's aristocratic dandyism ("God, we'll simply have to
dress the character. I want puce gloves and green boots") and
his physical daring ("Out here in the dark with a man I don't
know raving and moaning to himself about shooting a black panther. You saved men from drowning. I'm
not a hero, however"), other details in Telemachus
contribute to this image of a daring Georgian blade.
Mulligan's evocation of a Satanic Black Mass at the
beginning of the chapter displays exactly the kind of contempt
that O'Connor describes. His imitation of Jesus' takeoff from
the Mount of Olives, his
puzzled consideration of the odd rite of circumcision, and other such
mockeries express a blithe superiority to religious
superstitions. His threat to subject Haines to a schoolboy hazing also fits the
The name Buck was used in the 18th century not only by one
group of reckless young men but also by some individuals in
the subculture. Alexander "Buck" English was famous for his
dueling exploits at a time when duels were very common.
O'Connor notes that he "once shot a dilatory waiter, and then
had him charged on the bill" (41). Another Buck, born Thomas
Whaley, was known for forms of reckless behavior that map more
closely onto Gogarty and Mulligan. The subject of a 2019
biography by David Ryan, Whaley was famous as a spendthrift
(he burned through more than $100 million in today's money)
and as an adventurer (he successfully bet £10,000 that he
could make the dangerous voyage to Jerusalem and back in less
than two years). Like Gogarty, who flew about on bicycles,
automobiles, and aeroplanes without a hint of fear, Whaley was
totally reckless in the face of physical danger. He was also
irresistibly charming and indifferent to moral conventions.
O'Connor observes that when he finally got to Jerusalem he
"played handball against the Weeping Wall amidst the wails of
indignant rabbis" (41).
Although his reasons remain obscure, it is known that Gogarty
gave Joyce the nickname "Kinch."
Whether Joyce give him the nickname "Buck" in return is not
known, but it seems unlikely that Gogarty adopted the handle
himself, given his outrage at how he was portrayed in Ulysses:
he said that Joyce was trying to make him into "a stage