"Mullingar" is the chief town in "county Westmeath," west of Dublin in the Irish Midlands. Milly Bloom, the daughter of Leopold and Molly, has recently taken a job in a photographer's shop in Mullingar. In Calypso, she writes her father to say that she has met "a young student" there named Bannon. In this chapter, and at several later points in the novel, Bloom thinks of making a trip to Mullingar to visit his daughter, no doubt spurred in part by paternal worries about her sexual maturation. Two kinds of Irish transportation corridors figure in his plans: railways and canals.
Having contemplated Milly's sexual maturation in conjunction with Molly's sexual infidelity, Bloom thinks a little later in Calypso of paying her a visit: "Better where she is down there: away. Occupy her. Wanted a dog to pass the time. Might take a trip down there. August bank holiday, only two and six return. Six weeks off, however. Might work a press pass. Or through M'Coy."
The 2s. 6p. return-trip fare that Bloom wonders if he could avoid paying is for a train. "Grace," a story in Dubliners, observes that Mr. M'Coy once worked as "a clerk in the Midland Railway." The Midland Great Western Railway company operated a line from Dublin to Mullingar, and thence on to Athlone and Galway. In Lotus Eaters, having agreed to do a favor for M'Coy, Bloom parts from him and later thinks, "Damn it. I might have tried to work M'Coy for a pass to Mullingar." In Eumaeus, he is still thinking about "the fare to Mullingar," which has strangely grown to "five and six, there and back."
In Hades, on the other hand, he sees a bargeman who has floated into Dublin down the Royal Canal, and thinks of other ways of traveling west: "Athlone, Mullingar, Moyvalley, I could make a walking tour to see Milly by the canal. Or cycle down. . . . Perhaps I will without writing. Come as a surprise, Leixlip, Clonsilla." He soon has second thoughts that betray the purpose of his contemplated visit: "She mightn't like me to come that way without letting her know. Must be careful about women. Catch them once with their pants down. Never forgive you after. Fifteen." Gifford notes that the Royal Canal passes through Athlone (78 miles west of Dublin), and then, to the east, through Mullingar (50 miles), Moyvalley (30), and Clonsilla (11). Leixlip is on the Liffey, not the canal.
§ Joyce spent time in Mullingar with his father and some of his siblings in the summer of 1900. As Ellmann observes (77), it was his first experience of Ireland outside of Dublin and Cork. He tried writing about Mullingar in Stephen Hero but omitted these scenes in A Portrait of the Artist. "Some of the places he noticed, however, such as Phil Shaw's photographic shop, stayed with him, and he put Milly Bloom to work there in Ulysses" (78).