The Story Of Molly Malone: The Tale, Song + The Molly Malone Statue

Molly Malone statue
Photo left: Mike Drosos. Photo right: Matteo Provendola (Shutterstock)

Oh, sweet Molly Malone. A name known by millions the world over.

But is it all a bit of Irish folklore? Or is the Molly Malone statue a bronze representation of someone that really did exist.

Regardless of whether or not Molly Malone was real, there’s a fine bit of legend attached to this historic Dubliner.

In the guide below, you’ll discover everything from the story of Molly Malone to where to find the now-famous Molly Malone statue.

Some quick need-to-knows about Molly Malone

who was Molly Malone
Photo by LesPalenik (Shutterstock)

Although a visit to the Molly Malone statue is fairly straightforward, there are a few need-to-knows about the woman herself that’ll make your visit that bit more enjoyable.

1. The statue

Originally located on Grafton Street, the famous bronze Molly Mallone statue with her wheelbarrow can now be found on Suffolk Street in the shadows of St Andrew’s Church (across from O’Neill’s pub). The statue was first erected in 1988 to celebrate the city’s first millennium and was designed by Jeanne Rynhart. 

2. The song

Arguably one of the better-known Irish songs and recorded by the likes of Sinéad O’Connor, Pete Seeger and, of course, The Dubliners, Molly Malone has been an enduring anthem for years though its existence pre-dates the beginnings of popular music in the 1950s by many years! 

3. The woman herself

There’s no concrete evidence supporting her existence but the song tells us who she may have been. She would likely have been a street vendor who selected her cockles and mussels from the bounty that landed at Dublin’s quayside each morning, placed them in baskets on her barrow, and then set off on her rounds. Basically an 18th-century paper round, with fish. 

So, who was Molly Malone?

Molly Malone dublin
Photo by Matteo Provendola (Shutterstock)

We get asked ‘Who was Molly Malone’ fairly often. And, after spending a few hours researching her, we feel both ‘in-the-know’ and stumped.

There’s a couple of different theories around who Molly was, and what her profession really entailed. Here’s what we’ve found.

The most popular tale

The generally accepted story goes that Molly Malone worked as a ‘fishwife‘ who would likely have followed specific routes on certain days and her customers would have listened out for the calls.

Her ‘2nd profession’

You’ll often hear people refer to Molly Malone as the ‘Tart With The Cart’. This is because many believed she led a double life as a ‘Woman of the night’.

As you can glean from that short description, life was no picnic back in those days! In a poor and disease-ridden society, it’s believed she had to do what she could to make ends meet. Again, this is just speculation.

What happened to her

According to legend, Molly Malone died in one of the outbreaks of Cholera that would often sweep Dublin. Whether or not this is true is a different story altogether, but it appears to be the most widely accepted.

There were likely many Molly’s

It’s likely that there were a number of Molly Malone’s living in Dublin in the 17th and 18th centuries, especially considering the name ‘Molly’ derives from ‘Mary’ or ‘Margaret’ – two of the most popular Irish girls names at the time. 

In fact, there are at least three songs that feature a character named Molly Malone that pre-date the earliest known version of ‘Cockles and Mussels’ by several decades.

And when it was discovered in 1988 that a certain Molly Malone had indeed died in Dublin on June 13th, 1699, the legend only grew stronger!

The story behind the Molly Malone song

Interestingly, one of the first times the lyrics of the famous Molloy Malone song were printed wasn’t in Ireland at all, but across the Atlantic. They feature in a book printed in Boston, Massachusetts in 1876, though it’s claimed the song was popular throughout the mid-19th century back it was simply known as ‘Cockles and Mussels’.

Despite its long and deep association with Dublin, some historians have argued that the tragicomic lyrics are more closely reminiscent of the music-hall style that was popular in Britain during the Victorian era.

Indeed, a version of the song was attributed to Scottish composer James Yorkston and was published in London in 1884. So could she have been a street hawker in Edinburgh or London, rather than Dublin? ‘Dublin’s fair city’ graces the first line but several old Victorian music-hall songs reference ‘London’s fair city’ so the leap isn’t too strong to make. 

Things to do near the Molly Malone statue

The  Molly Malone statue is a stone’s throw from many of the best things to do in Dublin, from historical sites to mighty pubs.

Below, you’ll find everything from the Book of Kells and the Long Room to food, museums and much more.

1. Trinity College

Molly Malone song
Photo left: David Soanes. Photo right: JulianBuijzen (Shutterstock)

Home to the breathtaking Book of Kells and the gorgeous Long Room at the Old Library, Trinity College is one of the must-see sights in Dublin and is just a stone’s throw from the statue. Even if you don’t see those two particular attractions, feel free to wander around its historic grounds and breathe in that intellectual atmosphere that always makes you feel a little bit more intelligent. 

2. Temple Bar

temple bar
Photo left via Tomahawk Steakhouse on Facebook. Photo right via Eatokyo Noodles and Sushi Bar on Facebook

Despite its bright lights and international crowd reflecting how much Dublin has changed, the cobbled streets of Temple Bar might be the closest representation of where Molly herself would have walked. There’s some excellent restaurants in Temple Bar and there’s many lively pubs in Temple Bar, too.

3. Endless attractions in the city

dublin castle tours
Photo by Mike Drosos (Shutterstock)

With its handy central location, there are loads of other Dublin attractions to check out within a short walk or a tram or taxi ride. Whether you want to learn about the city’s most famous export at the Guinness Storehouse or go for a bucolic stroll through St Stephen’s Green, there’s plenty of entertaining directions to head from the Molly Malone statue. 

FAQs about the Molly Malone statue and the woman herself

We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from ‘What does Molly Malone sell?’ (cockles and mussels) to ‘What work did Molly Malone do?’.

In the section below, we’ve popped in the most FAQs that we’ve received. If you have a question that we haven’t tackled, ask away in the comments section below.

What’s the story behind Molly Malone?

The generally accepted story goes that Molly Malone worked as a ‘fishwife’ who would likely have followed specific routes and her customers would have listened out for the calls.

Was Molly Malone real?

It’s impossible to know. There’s no concrete evidence supporting her existence but the song tells us who she may have been.

Where is the Molly Malone statue in Dublin?

Originally located on Grafton Street, the famous bronze Molly Mallone statue can now be found on Suffolk Street across from O’Neill’s pub.

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