On the corner of Suffolk and St. Andrew’s Street, a statue sits outside of Saint Andrews Church. The figure depicts a busty woman wearing a low cut, frilled dress. She is pushing a cart filled with baskets of freshly caught mussels. Her gaze is cast to the side, eyeing potential customers as she cries out, “Cockles and mussels, alive, alive, oh!”
This woman is Molly Malone, the subject of an Irish folk song set in Dublin, Ireland. The lyrics to the song tell us that she comes from a family of fishmongers and has herself taken up the trade. She would wander the streets of Dublin with her wheelbarrow shouting to passersby that she had fresh mollusks for sale. One day, she grew desperately ill with fever and passed away. Molly’s ghost is said to roam the streets she once frequented, pushing her cart in hopes of selling her catch. They say that if you walk down Fishamble Street in the evening, you may hear her calling out to you.
One might question why an average fishmonger would be considered important enough to not only have her own song but to also be cast in bronze and set near Dublin’s city center. Based on what we can gather from the song, there was nothing special about Molly Malone. As it turns out, Molly is a prime example of the importance of a good story. She is shrouded in mystery and tragedy, a story that has drawn listeners in for years.
The statue was erected on Grafton Street in 1988 near St. John’s Church to commemorate the Dublin Millennium. It was believed that an honest woman had been baptized in the church and was buried there. However, this was not enough. People wanted to know more about her and her story, but nothing could be found. Upon further investigation, it was revealed that there were no birth, baptism, or death records for anyone with the name Molly Malone. There is no evidence that she ever even existed.
Molly is just one of many stories that have become part of Irish history in some form or another. Tales like hers have been told so frequently that they are often simply believed to be true. Different versions are shared between locals and with tourists in pubs or restaurants, so much so that the subject of these stories is often morphed and takes on several personalities. Many people believe that Molly was a hardworking fishmonger, while others believe she was a prostitute, and some say she was both.
When I first heard the tale of Molly Malone, I thought of her as an exquisite symbol from Ireland’s history. Regardless of whether or not she truly existed, her influence remains just like her ghost. Her legend, like many others, is valued in good conversation to be shared by all. Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.
The world awaits…discover it.