Molly Malone

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Statue of Molly Malone and her cart at the current location on Suffolk Street, Dublin (2014)
Close-up of Molly Malone statue when in Grafton Street (2003)
Full statue of Molly Malone and her cart on Grafton Street (2007)

"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.

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

On 18 July 2014, the statue was relocated to Suffolk Street, in front of the Tourist Information Office, to make way for Luas track-laying work to be completed at the old location. Due to the increase in tourist foot traffic, and a common penchant for being "handsy", the statue has been groped often enough that the bronze hue has begun to wear off on the bosom.


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.

There is no evidence that the song is based on a real woman, of the 17th century or 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, the Dublin Millennium Commission in 1988 endorsed claims made for 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 1876, when it was published in Boston, Massachusetts.[3] The song's placement in the section of the book entitled "Songs from English and German Universities" suggests an Irish origin.[4] 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.[5] 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 described the story of the historical Molly as "nonsense". The song is in a familiar tragi-comic mode popular in its period, and 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 from around 1790, published in Doncaster and rediscovered in 2010, contains a song referring to "Sweet Molly Malone" on 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." 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.[6] The song was later reprinted in a collection entitled The Shamrock: A Collection of Irish Songs (1831) and was published in The Edinburgh Literary Journal that year with the title "Molly Malone".[7]

Some elements of the song Molly Malone appear in several earlier songs. In addition to the earlier "Molly Malone" song discussed above, a character named "Molly Malone" appears in at least two other songs. The song, "Widow Malone," published as early as 1809, refers to the title character alternately as "Molly Malone," "Mary Malone" and "sweet mistress Malone".[4] An American song entitled "Meet Me Miss Molly Malone" was published as early as 1840.[4] The song, "Pat Corney's Account of Himself", published as early as 1826,[8] begins with "Now it's show me that city where the girls are so pretty" and ends with "Crying oysters, and cockles, and Mussels for sale."[4] During the 19th century, the expression "Dublin's fair city" was used regularly with reference to Dublin, and the phrase, "alive, alive O", is known to have been shouted by street vendors selling oysters, mussels, fish and eels.[4]


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 each wheel'd their barrow
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.
But her ghost wheels her barrow,
Through streets broad and narrow,
Crying, "Cockles and mussels, alive, alive, oh!"
(chorus) ×2[9]

"Molly Malone" in Apollo's Medley (1791)[edit]

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 17th-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 was expected to be returned to its original location in late 2017,[11] but on 29 January 2018 it was still seen in Suffolk Street.

In popular culture[edit]

The first part of the song is sung by actress Marie McDonald in the 1944 movie Guest in the House. 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 features in the movie A Clockwork Orange. Excerpts from it 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 the M*A*S*H (Season 10) episode "That's Show Biz", by Maisey McGinty in Wind at My Back, and in the Terence Davies film adaptation The Deep Blue Sea.

In Flanders, Belgium, the song "Cockles and Mussels" is often sung during the traditional student cantus, when all the participants rise and high-five the person opposite to them. In the green KVHV codex the song is to be found on page 537.

The song provides the nickname "Cockles" for the landlord, Mr Mussels, in Barbara Sleigh's children's novel No One Must Know (1962).


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

The song 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 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.


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 (pronounced "bo-iz)

It is also associated with the Dublin GAA teams, and was adopted in the 2000s by Leinster Rugby as their anthem. In addition it 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, and at the start of the women's race at the Liffey Swim, which usually takes place on the first or second Saturday in September and is over 2.5 km long. Swimmers don't wear wetsuits and the event works on a handicap time system.

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

Singing (clap)(clap)(clap)(clap)(clap)(clap)(clap)(clap)(clap) The Gills! (pronounced 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!

The song is also sung by supporters of Columbus Crew, Portsmouth F.C, Plymouth Argyle F. C., and the Irish Rugby Team.

Reading F.C. supporters sing the song, though adapting the end line of the first verse with a crescendo chant of "Reading".[12] Previously, the fans had adapted 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 fallen out of fashion as the singer is no longer so prominent.

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, Danny Kaye, Pete Seeger, Alfred Deller, The Limeliters, Frank Harte, Sinéad O'Connor, Johnny Logan, Ian McCulloch, Paul Harrington, Damien Leith and Burl Ives. The best-known version is by The Dubliners.[13]

Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney recorded an updated version of the song titled "The Daughter of Molly Malone" on their album That Travelin' Two-Beat (1965). Crosby also sang the song on the album A Little Bit of Irish recorded in 1966.

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 consumption.
  • French: Renaud
  • Dutch: "kokkels en mossels" by Ancora, a Dutch folk band that plays a lot of sea-related songs

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Siobhán Marie Kilfeather, Dublin: a cultural history, Oxford University Press US, 2005, p. 6.
  2. ^ a b Irish Historical Mysteries: Molly Malone
  3. ^ Waite, Henry Randall (1876). Carmina Collegensia: A Complete Collection of the Songs of the American Colleges, with Selections from the Student Songs of the English and German Universitys. Ditson. p. 73.
  4. ^ a b c d e Brown, Peter Jensen. "Molly Malone, Molly Mogg and a Missing Link – the Fishy History and Origins of "Cockles and Mussels"". Early Sports 'n' Pop-Culture History Blog.
  5. ^ "Cockles and Mussels (Molly Malone)". (quoting book by Sean Murphy). 2002. Archived from the original on 19 July 2011. Retrieved 22 August 2007.
  6. ^ Maev Kennedy (18 July 2010). "Tart with a cart? Older song shows Dublin's Molly Malone in new light". The Guardian.
  7. ^ Review in The Edinburgh literary journal
  8. ^ The Universal Songster: or, Museum of Mirth. London: John Fairburn. 1826. p. 19.
  9. ^ Yorkston, James (1998). "Molly Malone lyrics". Retrieved 6 October 2008.
  10. ^ The Edinburgh Literary Journal: Or, Weekly Register of Criticism and Belles Lettres, 5, 1831, p. 350, retrieved 31 March 2015
  11. ^ Flaherty, Rachel (1 May 2014). "Molly Malone statue wheeled away to make way for Luas". The Irish Times.
  12. ^ Retrieved 16 January 2017.
  13. ^ "The Dubliners: Discography – Live 40 Years Reunion". It’s the Dubliners. Retrieved 12 April 2017.

External links[edit]