There’s Something about Molly…

Yesterday the Guardian published a story on the most famous woman in Ireland: Sweet Molly Malone. The historical character – immortalised in the form of a statue on Dublin’s Grafton street – is best known through the song in which she is described pushing her wheelbarrow filled with cockles and muscles through the cobbled streets of Dublin.

Her image is that of a sweet maiden, vigorously working away to make a living, loving to her family and an example to women. The latest discovery as described by the Guardian however, portrays the lovely Molly in a rather different way. It would seem that she might not only have been selling sea fruit, but perhaps also the fruits of her loins.

©sNarah "Molly Malone"

“Apollo’s Medley”, a recently discovered book dating from 1790, reveals the earliest mention of the damsel, and it does so in a rather more sensual way than one could ever imagine. In the book, a rather poetic lyric is dedicated to Molly, as sung from the point of her alleged lover. It sounds very different to the song as we know it, in which she is merely a “pretty girl”.

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.

The song ends with a very clear indication of the love affair between the singer and Miss Malone:

Och! I’ll roar and I’ll groan, My sweet Molly Malone, Till I’m bone of your bone, And asleep in your bed.

I had to giggle at the comments released by the Office of Tourism, who quite clearly are not too impressed with one of their most famous residents being portrayed in a more unsettling way. Frank Magee of Tourism Ireland claims that Molly was nothing but a classy lady and that prostitution in 17th century was nonexistent. In his opinion it is more likely for the writer to be a drunkard, smitten with the beautiful young lady and merely proclaiming his love for her.

To be honest, the statue on Grafton Street, showing Molly with a rather generous bosom, makes it easy to perhaps accept the possibility, that maybe, just maybe Molly Malone was not the innocent pretty girl we want her to be. After all, isn’t prostitution often called the “oldest profession in the world”…?

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7 thoughts on “There’s Something about Molly…

  1. Eric Nieudan says:

    Do you have a linky for that article? That’s prime material for my projected supernatural thriller 😉

    I had heard before she was a prostitute. I thought that’s where the ‘tart with a cart’ came from, actually.

    And yeah, there was no prostitution in the 17th century. Right. I guess we can just ask Molly’s ghost, if we can find it. Who ya gonna call?

  2. Treasa says:

    I don’t get what’s unsettling about the idea that someone might have loved the girl. I never saw Molly Malone as a particularly virginesque feature. She was a street seller. She had to have had a sweetheart, let’s face it.

    god this country really needs to shake off the puritanism.

    1. sNarah says:

      Eric, linked back to the Guardian there! And both you and Trease are right, it’s very amusing how there is a perception of no prostitution in Dublin (the horrors!) and the image of Sweet innocent Molly. I’m happy to hear the opinions both on here and on Twitter of people saying “So what, we all thought this anyway”. Maybe Tourism Ireland should open their eyes too!

  3. aafke says:

    Tell you what Sarah, we learned this song in school -yes in NL- and never for a moment it occurrred to us that Molly was a proto-type of an upperclass ladyship. It makes Molly, young or older, more real knowing that she had a life beside the fish-mongering. Fair play to you for pointing this out.
    p.s. sorry i was so slow finding out where to write a comment.

    1. sNarah says:

      We learned the song in the Scouts in Belgium! Well, it wasn’t “real” new, just that little book the Guardian wrote about shows a few more details! If anything, I find it makes her human!

    1. sNarah says:

      No it mightn’t have the same effect, though, in all fairness Dave, all the overseas visitors I’ve brought to see her are usually a tad surprised by the bosom!

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