Molly Malone

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Close-up of Molly Malone statue in Grafton Street, Dublin.

"Molly Malone" (also known as "Cockles and Mussels" or "In Dublin's Fair City") is a popular song, set in Dublin, Ireland, which has become the unofficial anthem of Dublin City.

The Molly Malone statue in Grafton Street was unveiled by then Lord Mayor of Dublin, Alderman Ben Briscoe during the 1988 Dublin Millennium celebrations, declaring 13 June as Molly Malone Day. The statue was presented to the city by Jury's Hotel Group to mark the Millennium.

Since 18 July 2014, it has been relocated to Suffolk Street, in front of the Tourist Information Office, in order to make way for Luas track-laying work to be completed at the old location. Due to the increase in touristy foot traffic, and their penchant for being "handsy", the statue's cleavage has been groped repeatedly recently. Enough so that it's bronze hue has begun to wear off on the bosom.

Statue of Molly Malone and her cart on Suffolk Street, Dublin.


Full statue of Molly Malone and her cart on Grafton Street, Dublin.

The song tells the fictional tale of a fishmonger who plied her trade on the streets of Dublin, but who died young, of a fever. In the late 20th century a legend grew up that there was a historical Molly, who lived in the 17th century. She is typically represented as a hawker by day and part-time prostitute by night.[1] In contrast she has also been portrayed as one of the few chaste female street-hawkers of her day. However, there is no evidence that the song is based on a real woman, of the 17th century or at any other time. The name "Molly" originated as a familiar version of the names Mary and Margaret. While many such "Molly" Malones were born in Dublin over the centuries, no evidence connects any of them to the events in the song.[1][2] Nevertheless, in 1988 the Dublin Millennium Commission endorsed claims about a Mary Malone who died on 13 June 1699, and proclaimed 13 June to be "Molly Malone day".[1]

The song is not recorded earlier than 1883, when it was published in Cambridge, Massachusetts.[3] It was also published by Francis Brothers and Day in London in 1884 as a work written and composed by James Yorkston, of Edinburgh, with music arranged by Edmund Forman. The London edition states that it was reprinted by permission of Kohler and Son of Edinburgh, implying that the first edition was in Scotland, though no copies of it have been located.[4] According to Siobhán Marie Kilfeather the song is from the music hall style of the period, and while one cannot wholly dismiss the possibility that it is "based on an older folk song", "neither melody nor words bear any relationship to the Irish tradition of street ballads." She describes the story of the historical Molly as "nonsense". The song is in a familiar tragi-comic mode popular in this period, probably influenced by earlier songs with a similar theme, such as Percy Montrose's "My Darling Clementine", which was written in about 1880.

A copy of Apollo's Medley, dating to around 1790, published in Doncaster and rediscovered in 2010, contains a song referring to "Sweet Molly Malone" on its page 78 - this ends with the line "Och! I'll roar and I'll groan, My sweet Molly Malone, Till I'm bone of your bone, And asleep in your bed." However, other than this name and the fact that she lives in Howth near Dublin, this song bears no other resemblance to the familiar Molly Malone.[5] The song was later reprinted in a collection entitled The Shamrock: A Collection of Irish Songs (1831) and was published in the The Edinburgh literary journal that year with the title "Molly Malone".[6]


In Dublin's fair city,
Where the girls are so pretty,
I first set my eyes on sweet Molly Malone,
As she wheeled her wheel-barrow,
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,
But sure 'twas no wonder,
For so were her father and mother before,
And they wheeled their barrows,
Through the 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.
But her ghost wheels her barrow,
Through streets broad and narrow,
Crying, "Cockles and mussels, alive, alive, oh!"

"Molly Malone" in Apollo's Medley (1791)

By the big Hill of Howth,
That's a bit of an Oath,
That to swear by I'm loth,
To the heart of a stone,
But be poison my drink,
If I sleep snore or wink,
Once forgetting to think,
Of your lying alone,
Och it's how I'm in love,
Like a beautiful dove,
That sits cooing above,
In the boughs of a tree;
It's myself I'll soon smother,
In something or other,
Unless I can bother,
Your heart to love me,
Sweet Molly, Sweet Molly Malone,
Sweet Molly, Sweet Molly Malone
I can see if you smile,
Though I'm off half a mile,
For my eyes all the while,
Keep along with my head,
And my head on must know,
When from Molly I go,
Takes his leave with a bow,
And remains in my stead,
Like a bird I could sing,
In the month of the spring,
But it's now no such thing,
I'm quite bothered and dead,
Och I'll roar and I'll groan,
My sweet Molly Malone,
Till I'm bone of your bone,
And asleep in your bed


Molly is commemorated in a statue designed by Jeanne Rynhart, erected to celebrate the city's first millennium in 1988. Originally placed at the bottom of Grafton Street in Dublin, this statue is known colloquially as "The Tart With The Cart" or "The Trollop With The Scallop(s)", . The statue portrays Molly as a busty young woman in seventeenth-century dress. Her low-cut dress and large breasts were justified on the grounds that as "women breastfed publicly in Molly's time, breasts were popped out all over the place." [2]

The statue was later removed and kept in storage to make way for the new Luas tracks. On 18 July 2014, It was temporarily placed outside the Dublin Tourist Office on Suffolk Street. It is expected to be returned to its original location in late 2017.[9]

In popular culture

The first part of the song is sung by actress Marie McDonald in the 1944 movie Guest in the House, just a few seconds after minute 54. Her character arrives home rather drunk, carrying a basketful of live mussels from the nearby beach. Some seconds later she echoes her equally tipsy companion's lines while keeping the melody.

The song is featured in The Premature Burial, a 1962 film by Roger Corman, based on a story by Edgar Allan Poe. Within the diegesis, the melody sets off a nervous reaction in the protagonist, who associates it with the horror of being buried alive. The melody also recurs throughout the film's incidental music.

The song was also featured in the movie A Clockwork Orange. Pieces of the song also appear in the 1945 movie A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, and are quoted in the book of the same title by Betty Smith. The song was sung on M*A*S*H (Season 10) episode "That's Show Biz". The song was sung by Maisey McGinty on Wind at My Back. The song was also sung in the Terence Davies film adaptation The Deep Blue Sea. A variation of the song is usually sung just after kick-off by fans of Doncaster Rovers Football Club.

The song is referred to, though not by name, in Dire Straits' "Portobello Belle".

The ghost of Molly Malone is an important character in Piers Anthony's novel On a Pale Horse, introduced with the song.


Londoners adapt the song for their own needs often in a light vein, the major change being the lines:

As she wheeled her wheel-barrow,
Through Wealdstone and Harrow (pronounced Arra in this instance)

An altered first verse of the song is usually sung by supporters of Bohemian FC in Dublin. The changes being:

In Dublin's fair city,
Where the girls are so pretty,
I first set my eyes on sweet Molly Malone,
As she wheeled her wheelbarrow
Through streets broad and narrow
Crying (clap)(clap)(clap)(clap)(clap)(clap)(clap)(clap)(clap) Bohs (pronunciation / bo-iz /)

A similar version of the Bohemian FC chant is also sung by Gillingham (Kent) Football Club supporters, replacing the last line with

Singing (clap)(clap)(clap)(clap)(clap)(clap)(clap)(clap)(clap) The Gills! (pronunciation / Jills /)

It is one of the chants that Doncaster Rovers fans have used since the early 1970s, the last line being

Singing (clap)(clap)(clap)(clap)(clap)(clap)(clap)(clap)(clap) Rovers!

It is always sung at the lunches and dinners of London's '07 Club, which was founded in 1907 by staff of the London County Council.

Singer Allan Sherman also did a parody of the tune in the medley "Shticks of One and a Half a Dozen of the Other" which appeared on the album My Son, the Celebrity. In his version Molly has trouble with her wheelbarrow because she is very overweight.

Sporting anthem

'Molly Malone' is best associated with the Dublin GAA teams and Bohemian F.C., an association football club who are based on the north side of the city. In the 2000s the song was adopted by Leinster Rugby and it has become their Anthem.

The song is also sung by supporters of Columbus Crew, Plymouth Argyle, Doncaster Rovers, Gillingham and the Irish Rugby Team.

The song is sung each year at the Start of the Women's Mini-Marathon in Dublin on Bank Holiday Monday in June, where 50,000 women run through the streets of Dublin.

The song is also sung at the start of the women's race at the Liffey Swim. The event usually takes place on the first or second Saturday in September and is over 2.5 kilometres long. Swimmers don't wear wetsuits and the event works on a handicap time system.

Reading F.C. supporters sing the song, changing the name of Molly Malone to Kylie Minogue, and replacing the last line with "Singing" followed by the hook line of one of Minogue's hit songs. Initially I Should Be So Lucky was used, but in recent years this has been replaced by one of her more recent hits.

King's Scholars Rugby Football Club, of Stranmillis University College, Belfast, adopted the song as their official anthem in the 1930s. The team chant the song in their post-match huddle at the end of every game, with the change of the lyrics 'cockles and muscles, alive, alive oh!' to 'Scholars! Scholars! Scholars!'


English: Artists who have recorded versions of Molly Malone include Heino, U2, The Saturdays, Danny Kaye, Pete Seeger, Frank Harte, Sinéad O'Connor, Johnny Logan, Ian McCulloch, Paul Harrington and Damien Leith. However the best-known version is by The Dubliners.[citation needed] Operatic baritone Bryn Terfel has recorded a highly operatic version of the tune, sung in a somewhat upbeat fashion.

Other languages:

  • Russian:Душа моя, Молли (Du'sha moya, Molly - "Molly, my soul") (Russian Celtic folk rock band Tintal). Molly sold trout rather than "cockles and mussels" and died of tuberculosis.
  • French: Renaud

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Siobhán Marie Kilfeather, Dublin: a cultural history, Oxford University Press US, 2005, p. 6.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Irish Historical Mysteries: Molly Malone
  3. Hills, William H (1883). Students' Songs. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Moses King. p. 55.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. "Cockles and Mussels (Molly Malone)". (quoting book by Sean Murphy). 2002. Retrieved 22 August 2007.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Tart with a cart? Older song shows Dublin's Molly Malone in new light The Guardian, 18 July 2010
  6. Review in The Edinburgh literary journal
  7. James Yorkston (1998). "Molly Malone lyrics". Retrieved 6 October 2008.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. "The Edinburgh Literary Journal: Or, Weekly Register of Criticism and Belles Lettres, Volume 5". 1831. p. 350. Retrieved 31 March 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Flaherty, Rachel (1 May 2014). "Molly Malone statue wheeled away to make way for Luas". News. The Irish Times. |access-date= requires |url= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links