29 January 2016
Cockles and Mussels/ January 2016
One of the most popular melodies for Dublin singers is “cockles and mussels – alive alive O”.
The song tells the fictional tale of a beautiful shellfish seller, Molly Malone, who plied her trade on the streets of Dublin, but who died of a fever. Although Molly was a legendary figure, the story has a good historical basis. In the early twentieth century it was estimated that up to 3,000 million cockles were eaten annually in the city of Dublin, gathered in Dublin Bay by up to 70 full-time cockle fishers. At least three-quarters of these were eaten raw – proof of the strong constitutions of Dubliners! Unfortunately some shellfish were polluted by the raw sewage that was flowing into the Bay a century ago and their consumption led to many deaths from typhoid. Today, you can see plenty of empty cockle shells left behind by birds like the Oystercatcher on sandy beaches in Dublin Bay.
Text by Richard Nairn, Natura