Saturday 13 March 2010

Molly Malone

"In Dublin's fair city,
where the girls are so pretty,
I first set my eyes on sweet Molly Malone,
As she wheeled her wheel-barrow,
Through streets broad and narrow,
Crying, "Cockles and mussels, alive, alive, oh!""

Care for some Irish music, as it is soon Saint Patrick's Day? I first got introduced to this classic song in A Clockwork Orange, when a drunken beggar sings it, which causes Alex to dismiss it in these unflattering terms:

"One thing I could never stand was to see a filthy, dirty old drunkie, howling away at the filthy songs of his fathers and going blurp blurp in between as it might be a filthy old orchestra in his stinking, rotten guts. I could never stand to see anyone like that, whatever his age might be, but more especially when he was real old like this one was."

I know Alex is supposed to be a hooligan and a musical elitist one at that, but that was still unfair. Molly Malone is not a filthy song. The beggar does not sing it in the original novel. I don't think Anthony Burgess, who had Irish blood and was in love with the country and its capital, could have come up with something like that. Anyway, the song stayed at the back of my head, as the small part in the musical framework of the movie, until I visited Dublin ten years ago and saw her statue on Grafton Street.

Like many things I love, I don't know exactly why I love it. It's a great drinking song, it has romantic self-irony, a bit of of supernatural element, atmosphere, it also has charming simplicity. I have been wanting to put it on this blog for a while. So here it is, sung by the Dubliners (and I know it takes too much space):


Leigh Russell said...

Like you, I find this a very catchy song, although I couldn't say why. Perhaps it has something to do with the personalisation of Molly Malone. We know her name, and she seems to be both romantic and tragic, and, at the same time, she sells cockles and mussels on the street. So much of life is there, one way and another. And the irony of 'alive alive-oh' after she's dead. And who is the first person narrator?

Guillaume said...

Very interesting analysis. Yes, I think it has also something to do with the way Molly Malone is characterised: both common, the girl next door Dublin version really, yet mysterious and, because of her tragic death, inaccessible, yet the narrator can still feel her presence, to remind him (rather cruelly) that he can never get her.

Or maybe I lvoe the song just because I love cockles and mussels.