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. Joyce appears to have based this picture on an actual employee of O'Rourke's pub named Patrick Mulhern. Later in the novel Bloom mentions the Leitrim town where Mulhern was born, "Carrick-on-Shannon," as a kind of quintessentially Irish backwater far removed from exotic foreignness.

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County Leitrim (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." Carrick-on-Shannon, the largest town, is no more than a village by the standards of most counties. Fewer than 5,000 people live there today. Sited at a strategic ford on the River Shannon, it grew up as a market town hosting several annual fairs. In Eumaeus, Bloom indicts the provincial thinking of the barhounds of Cyclops who were enraged when he called Jesus a Jew: "because mostly they appeared to imagine he came from Carrick-on-Shannon or somewhere about in the county Sligo." In this hyperbolic account, a fair-skinned and blue-eyed Savior stumbled out of the most unforeign, chastely Irish place imaginable.

[2021: Checking the 1901 census records for Larry O'Rourke's building on a whim, Senan Molony has discovered that in that year an unmarried 22-year-old man named "Patrick Mullherne," who was born in "Carrick on Shannon, Leittrim," was living on the premises and working as a "shop assistant." No doubt he had red hair. Mulhern or Mulherne ("Leittrim" leads one to suspect that either Larry O'Rourke or John Phillips, the census "enumerator," had a habit of doubling consonants) does not appear in the 1911 census records, but presumably he may have still been living in the building in 1909, when Joyce visited Dublin and stayed with his friend J. F. Byrne at 7 Eccles Street. One can easily imagine Joyce having drinks in the corner pub while staying with Byrne, learning that the red-headed barman was from Country Leitrim, and including him, relatively anonymously, in the legion of Dubliners who populate the pages of Ulysses.]

JH 2017
The 32 counties of Ireland. Source:
Page from the 1901 census entry showing people living on the premises of Larry O'Rourke's pub, including one Patrick Mullherne. Source: Senan Molony.