Searching for Molly Malone in Dublin’s Fair City

Many are familiar with the famous song of Molly Malone with following catchy lyrics

In Dublin’s fair city
where the girls are so pretty
I once met a girl named sweet Molly Malone
and she wheeled her wheel barrow
through the streets broad and narrow
singing cockles and mussels alive alive oh

Walking through the city’s historic Georgian Quarter, many visitors make their way to find the Molly Malone statue unveiled during the 1988 Dublin Millennium celebrations. We decided to pay a visit to the famous statue and after consulting our map we set off for the bottom of Grafton Street.

Grafton Street is one of the most popular streets in Dublin, full of shops, bars and eateries, we gradually reach the bottom of the street to marvel at the statue when we are surrounded by road works and no sign of the statue. Double checking our maps, we scratch our heads and look bemused and wander around the corner to Suffolk Street where to our surprise, there stands our heroine immortalised in bronze.

Apparently the statue was originally erected at the bottom of Grafton Street, however in 2014 it was temporarily moved to Suffolk Street to make way for the extension of the Luas tram system. The map makers of Dublin have obviously decided that it is not worth the trouble of changing its location.

The statue by Irish sculptor Jeanne Rynhart features a rather buxom Molly in a traditional and rather revealing 17th century dress next to a cart of full of seafood including ‘Cockles and Mussels’. In typical Irish humour the statue has acquired the nickname of the ‘Tart with the Cart’.

For such a famous heroine, she is quite enigmatic with her origins often the source of some debate. It is suggested that the song which was originally published in the USA in 1883 and attributed to the Scottish composer James Yorkston was based on an old Irish folk ballad. Even more confusing was the discovery of a Molly Malone song in an 18th-century book called Apollo’s Medley printed in England in 1790 which has our heroine plying her wares in Howth, which was a North Dublin fishing village.

Desperate to provide a real life Molly Malone, many historians have trawled the records to find a Molly Malone from the 17th century, whilst some ‘Molly Malone’s’ have been found, no evidence of a connection with our fictional character have been made.

Whilst most people are familiar with the first verse of the song, the final verse tell us about our heroine’s tragic end.

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
singing cockles and mussels alive alive oh

In many ways, her ghost does permeate the Dublin streets with the interest in her still as strong as ever.

Old Fogies Travels are the adventures of two elderly Londoners (The Old Fogies) as they explore their home town and travel around the world looking out for the strange, unusual and absurd.

Our articles are published on our blog but also listed on the website of our friends at Visiting London here.


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