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Sweet Molly Malone

She's famous the world over
Was she really as sweet as the well-known song suggests?

Molly Malone

Molly Malone statue, 2014.

The song Molly Malone is not just the 'anthem' of Dublin and the city's sports supporters. It has become famous throughout the world.

It tells of a Dublin long gone, when street vendors plied their trade from a barrow having collected their produce from the early morning markets.

In Molly's case (had she lived) she would have selected her cockles and mussels from the bounty landed at the city's quayside each morning, placed them in baskets on her barrow, and set off on her rounds. She would probably have followed specific routes on certain days, and her customers would have listened out for the calls that announced her arrival in their locality.

There is no evidence to suggest that Molly was a real person. Countless people, including academics and genealogists, have tried to find proof of her existence. None has been found.

Her bronze statue was created by sculptor Jeanne Rynhart of Glengarrif, Co Cork, whose work includes the equally famous statue on Cobh quayside depicting Annie Moore and her two brothers setting sail for America.

Having been at the busy junction of Nassau Street, Suffolk Street and the pedestrianised shopping mecca of Grafton Street since 1988, Molly found herself in the way of a new cross-river tram route and, in April 2014, she had to pack up her barrow.

The opportunity was taken to give her some tender loving care from specialist bronze restorers and on Friday 18 July she wheeled her wares into a new temporary spot (see above) outside the city's Tourist Office in St Andrew's Church, Suffolk Street, about 150 yards away from her old home.

She'll be staying there until 2017, before being relocated as a permanent resident of Grafton Street.

Sweet Molly Malone - Lyrics

Hunting for Molly in 1901

There's no evidence that Molly was anything other than a figment of the songwriter's imagination.

But just for the sake of idle curiosity and a bit of harmless fun, I took a rummage in the 1901 census (this is the oldest surviving complete Irish census) and found two Molly Malones listed.
Molly Malone in the 1901 census.
Click for full view.
Molly Malone in the 1901 census

What's immediately obvious is that neither of these two girls lived in Dublin. One is from rural county Clare, the other from the city of Limerick.

Nor is there any hint that either is the daughter of a fish-monger. The first girl is the second daughter of a Grocer. The other girl is a visitor to the household of a labouring family.

Of course, it's perfectly possible that 'our' Molly Malone had already succumbed to her fever by 1901...

In Dublin's fair city
Where the girls are so pretty
I first laid my eyes on
Sweet Molly Malone
As she wheeled her wheelbarrow
Through streets broad and narrow
Crying "Cockles and Mussels,
Alive, alive - oh".

Alive, alive - oh. Alive, alive - oh.
Crying Cockles and Mussels. Alive, alive - oh.

She was a fishmonger.
And sure t'was no wonder.
For so was her Father
And Mother before.
And they all wheeled their barrows
Through streets broad and narrow
Crying "Cockles and Mussels,
Alive, alive - oh".


She died of a fever
And no-one could save her.
And that was the end of sweet Molly Malone.
Now her ghost wheels her barrow
Through the streets broad and narrow
Crying "Cockles and Mussels,
Alive, alive - oh".


Molly Malone Day
In 1988, the year Dublin celebrated its millennium, 13 June was declared Molly Malone Day.

Good golly Miss Molly

In July 2010 came news that casts Dublin's favourite fishmonger in a different light to the virtuous young girl of the famous song.

An earlier version of the song, perhaps as much as 100 years older, was discovered in a late 18th-century book containing a collection of popular theatre songs.

In this older version, there are no cockles and mussels. Indeed Molly isn't even a fishmonger, and she doesn't die of a fever, either. Instead, she's the kind of girl that makes the singer very happy in the evening.

  • "Och! I'll roar and I'll groan,
  • my sweet Molly Malone
  • Till I'm bone on your bone
  • and asleep in your bed."

From the 'new' lyrics, it's hard to tell if the object of his interest returns his affections. He also sings:

  • "It's myself I'll soon smother
  • In something or other
  • Unless I can bother
  • Your heart to love me."

The book in which the lyrics were found, Apollo's Medley, dates from 1790, but the song may be considerably older.

The discovery, by a bookshop owner in Hay-on-Wye on the Wales/England border, certainly raises questions about the busty fish seller chosen as the focus of Dublin's millennium celebrations in the summer of 1988.

Perhaps the nicknames are closer to the mark, after all!

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Miss Malone's reputation

In typical Dublin form, there's a good clutch of nicknames for 'Our Molly'. She's a popular lass, all right, but there's a certain theme running through these names which suggest she's not necessarily the kind of girl you take home to meet your Mam.

Here are a few of the better known names:

  • The tart with the cart
  • The trollop with the scallop
  • The dolly with the trolley
  • The flirt in the skirt
  • The dish with the fish.

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