Beef to the heels

In her letter to her father in Calypso, Milly reports that "all the beef to the heels were in" Mullingar—a confusing phrase, since fair day was the occasion for driving cattle to town, but she seems to be referring to people. The expression is used widely in rural Ireland for well-fed cattle; "Beef to the heels like a Mullingar heifer" suggests livestock richly endowed with flesh right down to the ground. But by association it also frequently refers to well-off people, particularly women who look like they haven't missed many meals. An odd assortment of connotations results: appreciation of wealth (Milly's usage), contempt for sexual unattractiveness (Bloom's in Lestrygonians), desire for fullbodied womanhood (Bannon's in Oxen of the Sun).

John Hunt 2013

Mullingar heifers, property of David Clarke Livestock in County Westmeath. Source: