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In Dublin's fair city
Where girls are so pretty,
I first set my eyes on sweet Molly Malone,
As she wheeled her wheelbarrow
Through streets broad and narrow,
Crying "Cockles and mussels! Alive, Alive Oh!"

"Alive, alive Oh! Alive, alive Oh!"
Crying, "Cockles and mussels! Alive, Alive Oh!"

She was a fishmonger
But sure 'twas no wonder
For so were her father and mother before
And they each wheeled their barrow
Through streets broad and narrow
Crying "Cockles and mussels! Alive, Alive Oh!"

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 Oh!"

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Source: Singing Together, Autumn 1974, BBC Publications

The booklet gives no information on this song, buts its origins have been discussed at Mudcat here and here. Various links in those threads take you to this website by Sean Murphy, based on a book he wrote on the subject:

The earliest versions of 'Cockles and Mussels' traced to date were published firstly in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1883, (7) and secondly in London in 1884 by Francis Brothers and Day. (8) While the 1883 version lists no author, the 1884 version describes the piece as a 'comic song' written and composed by James Yorkston and arranged by Edmund Forman. The latter version further acknowledges that the song was reprinted by permission of Messrs Kohler and Son of Edinburgh, so there must have been at least one earlier edition published in Scotland, which may well have been the original.


At this stage we are in a position to come to some tentative conclusions. It would appear that the version of 'Cockles and Mussels' sung today is not in fact 'traditional', in the sense that it does not predate the 1880s or 1870s and is the work of the Scottish-based composer James Yorkston. Yorkston may well have been influenced by an earlier folk tune or tunes as yet unidentified. Why Yorkston set the song in Dublin, and not London or Edinburgh for example, is a point worthy of further investigation. It is not inconceivable that a real barrow girl in Dublin or even Edinburgh could have played a part in inspiring Yorkston, but it is more likely that the Molly Malone he portrayed was merely a type and not an actual person. The song attributed to Yorkston was a 'comic song' replete with mock pathos, and having been performed in music halls, parlours, convivial gatherings and elsewhere it must have gained such popularity and been so widely dispersed that its origins were lost to memory and it was assumed to be just another anonymous folk song. As it was set in Dublin, obviously it would be of special interest there, and indeed in time it evolved into a sort of unofficial anthem of the city.

Before the creation of the bizarre legend that Molly Malone was a real person who lived in the seventeenth century, the writer, and no doubt many others, had an image of the fishmonger as an imaginary figure in a nineteenth-century Victorian setting. The evidence outlined above indicates that this impression is basically correct, and indeed this is the Molly Malone portrayed on the cover of Walton's 1920s or 1930s edition of 'Cockles and Mussels'. (9) This picture is reproduced above, and it can be seen that Molly is set amid a Victorian Dublin scene, with a silhouette of the now sadly destroyed Nelson's Pillar in the background. Note also the details of Molly's dress, and the fact that she wheels a barrow and not a handcart as in Rynhart's sculpture.

Roud: 16932 (Search Roud index at VWML)

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