Monday, January 3, 2022


“Daddy would say the love the world has shown has warmed the cockles of our hearts and then he would say 'I don't know what a cockle is, but whatever it is has been warmed.' And since he was an English teacher and doesn't know what a cockle is… I definitely don't know what a cockle is, but our cockles are warm. We thank you for loving our father, grandfather, husband, uncle, brother, brother-in-law."

- Part of a commemoration of her father, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, by his daughter Nontombi Naomi Tutu, at his funeral mass yesterday.

So what then is a cockle, what does it have to do with hearts and why are they warmed?
  • The expression means to bestow a feeling of contentment, to kindle warm feelings in a person, especially of happiness, to induce a glow of pleasure, sympathy, affection, or some such similar emotion.
  • It’s not that surprising that it is the heart which gets warmed, that being the presumed seat of the emotions for most people.
  • A cockle is an edible, marine bivalve mollusc. They were once a staple part of the diet for many British people - Sweet Molly Malone once wheeled her wheelbarrow through Dublin’s fair city, crying “cockles and mussels, alive, alive oh!”
Cockles in a cream and oregano sauce
  • The distinctive rounded shells are bilaterally symmetrical, and are heart-shaped when viewed from the side:

  • The term warm the cockles of one’s heart dates back to the mid-1600s, a time when scientific texts were often written in Latin.
  • A typical heart has two upper and two lower chambers. The upper chambers, the right and left atria, receive incoming blood. The lower chambers, the more muscular right and left ventricles, pump blood out of the heart.
  • The Latin term cochleae cordis means ventricles of the heart (cordis being heart in Latin) and most probably, the word cochleae was corrupted as cockles, hence cockles of the heart.
  • This may have been a mistake made by the less learned, or a deliberate joke.
  • Add in the fact that the cockle mollusc is shaped like a heart, and the idea of the phrase cockles of one’s heart being more or less a joke gains credence.
So there you have it, although in the present discussion it is not exactly alive, alive oh.

By the way:

Molly Malone is commemorated in a statue commissioned by Jurys Hotel Group and designed by Jeanne Rynhart, erected to celebrate the Dublin’s first millennium in 1988. Originally placed at the bottom of Grafton Street in Dublin, this statue is known colloquially as "The Tart with the Cart" or "The Trollop With The Scallop(s)". The statue portrays Molly as a busty young woman in 17th-century dress. Her low-cut dress and large breasts were justified on the grounds that as "women breastfed publicly in Molly's time, breasts were popped out all over the place."

The statue was later removed and kept in storage to make way for the new Luas tracks. In July 2014, it was placed outside the Dublin Tourist Office on Suffolk Street.

Statue of Molly Malone with her barrow of cockles and mussels at its original location on Grafton Street (2007)

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