County Leitrim

County Leitrim

In Brief

In Calypso Bloom imagines young publicans-to-be "Coming up redheaded curates from the county Leitrim, rinsing empties and old man in the cellar." The picture is of rustics scraping by in the big city, doing menial labor and possibly swilling leftover beer or selling it to customers. Later in the novel he mentions the chief town in this out-of-the way county, "Carrick-on-Shannon," as a kind of quintessentially Irish place far removed from exotic foreignness.

Read More

County Leitrim (pronounced LEE-trəm) is in the northern part of Connacht, just south of Donegal. It has the smallest population of any of Ireland's 32 counties, and little in the way of scenic or historic sites to attract visitors. Gifford observes that in 1904 it "seemed remote and agrarian to Dublin, and its inhabitants were regarded as country bumpkins."

There has been some difference of opinion about the phrase "old man." Gifford glosses it as referring to the remainder in a drinker's glass, suggesting that the servers are slurping down leftover portions of the customers' drinks. Slote instead quotes from an entry in Partridge's Dictionary of Slang that defines it as "That part of the beer engine in which the surplus beer collects." Given the passage's reference to the cellar, Slote's reading is probably preferable, and it may imply that the pub workers are simply cleaning out the machinery. On the other hand, Richard Wall's Anglo-Irish Dialect Glossary sees the phrase as referring to "beer slops which are sold to unsuspecting customers." 

Carrick-on-Shannon is the largest town in County Leitrim, but no more than a village by the standards of more populous counties. Even today it has far fewer than 5,000 residents. Sited at a strategic ford on the River Shannon, it grew up as a market town hosting several annual fairs. In Eumaeus, when Bloom tells Stephen that his calling Jesus a Jew enraged the barhounds in Cyclops "because mostly they appeared to imagine he came from Carrick-on-Shannon or somewhere about in the county Sligo," he apparently means that these provincial intellects not only paint fair skin and blue eyes on their Semitic Savior, but imagine him coming from a part of Ireland barely touched by the outside world.

JH 2017
The 32 counties of Ireland. Source: