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The Story of Molly Malone

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( Selling fish during the day, prostitute by night )

The Story of Molly Malone

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!”

These must be some of the best known lyrics, heard in every Irish bar but who was Molly Malone and what is her story?

Widely recognized as Dublin’s unofficial anthem is the famous song in which Molly Malone in the beautiful heroine,

Molly Malone was  Immortalised in bronze during the 1988 Dublin Millennium celebrations and the Molly Malone statue stands in the heart of the city’s historic Georgian Quarter.  

According to Wikipedia there is no evidence that the song is based on a real woman in the 17th century or any other time. The name “Molly” originated as a familiar version of the names Mary and Margaret. Many such “Molly” Malones were born in Dublin over the centuries, but no evidence connects any of them to the events in the song.

 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”.

The song is not recorded earlier than 1876, when it was published in Boston, Massachusetts.Its placement in the section of the book titled “Songs from English and German Universities” suggests an Irish origin.

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, but no copies of it have been found.

According to Siobhán Marie Kilfeather, the song is from the music hall style of the period, and one cannot wholly dismiss the possibility that it is “based on an older folk song”, but “neither melody nor words bear any relationship to the Irish tradition of street ballads”. She calls the story of the historical Molly “nonsense”. 

A variant, “Cockles and Mussels”, with some different lyrics, appeared in Students’ Songs: Comprising the Newest and Most Popular College Songs As Now Sung at Harvard, Yale, Columbia, … Union, Etc in 1884.

Here is a beautiful version of the famous song.

The Dubliners – Molly Malone

Molly Malone Statue Tours

Molly Malone Statue Tours

More places in Dublin

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Ha’penny Bridge

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Last updated May 29, 2023


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Get The Ultimate Ireland Travel Bundle When You Join and Stay Updated On Everything About The Emerald Ilse. Your Free Travel Bundle will include Free PDF Downloads as well as Online Resources that we update regularly.

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Mary Daugherty

Wednesday 22nd of September 2021

I love Ireland, the people, and the music, everything! I do not appreciate the concept that Molly Malone was necessarily a prostitute. Maybe it is a joke and presumption and not necessarily true? And I can understand a woman being pushed to that life in order to get by...but it is not a funny joke to me. My tender Irish heart hurts with this amusement.

Siobhan Forde

Saturday 26th of June 2021

Love this song, wonderful..

Renate Rothwell

Friday 25th of June 2021

I think that there are many women who are still forced into this life style for economic reasons … they have no other skills through lack of education and family s support to prostitute their bodies .

But many women I met at the time said that given a choice they would rather find economic means to help them live. It’s a very dangerous way of living for a woman and I have been involved in schemes to help them exit

Prostitution is legal in the UK but related activities like soliciting , managing brothels , kerb crawling are crimes …. not sure about the legislation in Ireland

Renate Rothwell

Friday 25th of June 2021

Thank you so much for posting Molly Malone’s story and song . I can’t remember where I learnt it but I know it well .

Having worked with street girls and visited ‘residences’ where they met their clients , I am familiar with their ‘choice of life style ‘ … that was in parts of London ; in the. East End but also in Soho and the Brixton Area .

I was responsible for their health care. ; I used to love my job until a serious car accident prevented me from returning .