MOLLY MALONE: Dead Chick Sells Live Seafood

Molly Malone statue in Dublin

I’ve been in Ireland with the family this week visiting my wife’s family in County Kerry. We took a few days for a jaunt over to Dublin, where we encountered this famous statue of the legendary Molly Malone on Grafton Street. No doubt you are familiar with the song. Personally, I’ve always been struck by its remarkable irony, which I am certain must have been intentional. My wife, however, thinks I’m crazy.

The lyrics, you may recall, run as follows:


In Dublin’s Fair City

Where the girls are so pretty

I first set my eyes on sweet Molly Malone

As she wheel’d her wheel barrow

Through streets broad and narrow

Crying cockles and mussels alive, alive o!


Alive, alive o!, alive, alive o!

Crying cockles and mussels alive, alive o!

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 o!

(Repeat Chorus)

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 o!

(Repeat Chorus)


I don’t know about you, but the very notion of buying live shellfish from a dead person kind of creeps me out.

On googling the song to retrieve the lyrics, I find it is not even Irish. Turns out the tune was first published in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1883, then again in London in 1884, where it was attributed to a Scotsman.

Similarly, Dublin itself, Ireland’s first city both temporally and physically, was founded not by Irish people, but by Vikings, putative barbarians who came pillaging and plundering from over the sea. The Irish seem proud of the Viking influence in their culture, at least as far as Dublin is concerned, and I was a little surprised to see how actively they promote it in the tourist trade.

Tourist bus in Dublin

And what exactly were the Irish doing while barbarians were landing in longships, establishing cities and other marks of material civilization? Devout folk that they are, they were playing with coloring books and promulgating Christianity in lonely monasteries not only in Ireland, but throughout Europe.

Book of Kells image

Daughter Lucy is a big fan of the animated film The Secret of Kells, which describes how the holy Book of Kells was created (with a little help from a magical cat named Pangur Ban) in the face of the terrible Viking onslaught. So, of course, one of the things we wanted to see while in Dublin was the real book itself, which is housed in the library at Trinity College.

Lucy makes a face

But Lucy, I’m afraid, wasn’t terribly impressed.

While in Dublin we also visited Dun Laoghaire (pronounced “Dun Leary”), which is the epicenter of the sailing scene on Ireland’s east coast.

Golden Hind 31

It warmed my heart to spy this Golden Hind 31, sistership to my old girl Sophie, lying on a mooring there. It would be a great boat to cruise Ireland in, as there are many enormous sand flats here that dry out at low tide. With its bilge keels, a Golden Hind can always park on the sand no problem.

Dun Laoghaire harbor

I should also point out that my mother-in-law, who was raised in Dun Laoghaire, claims that the man who designed the breakwaters that protect the harbor killed himself after he realized he’d put the entrance in the wrong place. Presumably, given that the sea is to the east and the open breadth of Dublin Bay is to the north, he wished he had placed the entrance facing more to the west. As you can see above, they’ve since built an inner harbor to protect the marina from the northerly swell.


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