Molly Malone, Bronze statue on Grafton Street, Dublin City

Was the real Molly Malone a loose woman?


Molly Malone, Bronze statue on Grafton Street, Dublin City

The original Molly Malone may not have been a sweet hearted Dublin girl selling her cockels and mussels from a wheelbarrow after all.

Molly Malone is one of Ireland’s most famous songs, belted out in pubs worldwide. , though ironically attributed to an American, James Yorkston who is said to have written it in 1883.

It tells the story of a fishmonger named Molly and her admirer. She later dies of a fever but her ghost still wheels the barrow through Dublin.

The chorus line ‘Cockels and mussels alive alive o” is probably one of the most widely sung Irish ballad lines ever.

But another version of the song has now been located. It is a much more bawdy and risque song suggesting the original Molly may have been selling more than her sea food from her wheelbarrow.

A tiny 18th century book has turned up at a literary festival in England which predates the song about a 100 years before the official version.

Molly doesnt’ have a wheelbarrow in this version but her admirer has clear designs on her in the version printed today in the London Guardian newspaper.

It ends: "Och! I'll roar and I'll groan, My sweet Molly Malone, Till I'm bone of your bone, And asleep in your bed."
The song says the original Molly lived by "by the big hill of Howth",which  has been a fishing village since Viking times.

The famous cockles and mussels version was first published in the United States in 1883 and was  attributed to James Yorkston. But the older version has quite different lyrics.

Other versions mentioning the hill of Howth are known, but none earlier than the early 19th century.

The new version contained  in a book called Apollo's Medley, printed in Doncaster, says that it contains "the most popular and admired songs sung at the Theatre Royal and other public places of amusement".

The singer worries that Molly may be lonely in her solitary bed: "Be poison, my drink, If I sleep, snore, or wink, Once forgetting to think, Of your lying alone."

And his devotion is clearly beyond question:

"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."

A statue of Molly Malone was installed at the bottom  of Grafton Street to celebrate Dublin's millennium in 1988. Dublin wits soon christened it ‘The Tart with the cart’  The new version claims that name may be apt.

Frank Magee, chief executive of Dublin Tourism, stated this earlier song could be the source of long time speculation that Molly supplied shellfish by day and special services at  night.

"Everyone knows that it is hard to believe that such activities, if they took place in Dublin in the late 17th century, were of a mercenary nature. The author admits to having imbibed drink, which is another unusual characteristic for a Dubliner, and so I believe his recollection of his night with Molly may have been clouded by alcohol. I believe that there is no evidence to suggest that Molly was anything other than a lady of virtue, who was smitten by the writer and may have shared her bed with him," he told The Guardian.


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