It’s a legendary family story. When Grandma and Grandpa Neal traveled to Ireland in the ’70s, they decided to take a carriage ride. As the grizzled Irish driver was struggling to help my grandmother — a portly woman — into the carriage, he muttered: “You’re beef to the heels like a Mullingar heifer!”
Grandma, who had a wonderful sense of humor, thought it was one of the funniest comments ever — so of course we grandkids did, too. But the driver’s jibe had an air of mystery and an almost lyrical quality that stuck with me. A heifer was a cow, or course, but what, precisely, was a Mullingar heifer?
In those days, it would have taken forever to find out. I suppose I could have gone to the reference section of the library, spoken to a severe-looking woman who probably would have been suspicious of my purported interest in Irish cattle, and with her assistance possibly located a massive book about bovine breeds that was available only in the library of the Ohio State University School of Veterinary Medicine. It was too much work to satisfy a bit of idle curiosity, obviously, so I didn’t even try.
But then the internet was invented! (Thanks, Al Gore!) So when I was thinking with a chuckle of the Irishman’s comment the other day, I entered “Mullingar heifer” into the little box on Google, and lo and behold, I not only found pictures of the mysterious creature, one of which I’ve now posted here, but also learned that “beef to the heels like a Mullingar heifer” is a traditional Irish colloquialism typically used in connection with ladies with stout legs. The latter discovery was a bit of a letdown, because for years I had been giving the Irish driver credit for coming up with a deft, original witticism.
Now that I’ve solved that decades-old mystery, it’s time to find the true origins of Mom’s exhortation to “put a little elbow grease into it!”