A smile and a push in the right direction on Dublin's mean tourist streets

Dublin businesses are funding a number of initiatives including ‘street ambassadors’ to make the city a better place to be, and…

Dublin businesses are funding a number of initiatives including 'street ambassadors' to make the city a better place to be, and when it comes to the Molly Malone statue diplomacy is essential, writes KATHY SHERIDAN

IT’S HARD to avoid Molly Malone. Harder still to avoid her cleavage. “Her breasts are a different colour to the rest of her. It’s because of all the rubbing they get from the lads – a bit like touching St Peter’s foot in the Vatican,” grins David Denham, an ex-printer turned customer service rep with Dublin City Business Improvement District (Bid). Sure enough, the bosoms seem to have taken on a lighter hue. Bid people seem to notice things that might elude the rest of us. Or maybe it’s just Denham.

One of Bid's young "street ambassadors", Niamh Irving, armed as usual with a big map, is in a huddle with a group of English visitors, fresh in off the cruise ship Boudicca. The city is teeming with them, all wielding to-do lists and all of which cross Molly's gaze at some point. Except, as Brian from Bournemouth gleefully points out, it's not Molly's gaze that meets your eye. "Look," he says, pointing at the plinth, "her cleavage is at eye-level. It's deliberate. You can't avoid it."

A couple walking purposefully past spot Irving in her Day Glo jacket and ask for the Molly Malone statue. "That's it. Just beside you," says Irving, beaming. "Oh," says the woman, "we walked right by it," So you did, chips in The Irish Times, now why was that? Long pause. "Maybe it's a bit smaller than we expected." And why did you want to see it anyway? "It's the song." It may be that Molly's reputation is larger than her statue but smaller than her bosom.

Meanwhile, every tourist in Dublin is clambering up on Molly for a photograph, leaning in against her ample assets. Do they know she was a prostitute? A couple of men from the good ship Boudiccalook alarmed. "No, No!", they protest. "No, truthfully, we were told she sold coal, or fish, or whatever that stuff in the barrow is." Did Irving know? She did. It was among the many little gems imparted by Pat Liddy (the Dublin historian and artist) during their seven-day training stint. We take a few moments to ponder the mindset that plonks a virtually topless prostitute bang at the main tourist crossroads of the capital. And what was the nature of that fever she died of, anyway?

Irving’s beat runs from O’Connell Bridge up to Stephen’s Green but she could probably base herself full-time at Molly’s. This is where quick decisions must be made by a tourist in a hurry – National Gallery/ Museum/Leinster House to the right, Tourist Office to the left, Trinity/Book of Kells/Temple Bar straight on, Guinness brewery left down there and past Christchurch. People look boggled. Irving’s summer job might not have been necessary back in the day when Dubliners instinctively ambled up to lost-looking visitors and offered to sort them out. The city’s loss is the Trinity medical student’s gain.

Taking their cue from Bid projects in cities such as New York, Philadelphia and Washington, Dublin businesses are funding this effort to restore the spirit of the city, putting perky, well-informed people on the streets with briefs to score cleanliness (the council responds within 10 minutes where there are problems, says Bid CEO Richard Guiney), tease out store-owners' concerns and factor in their ideas (ie more seats, improved lighting), and basically be nice to wandering tourists, anticipate their questions and give information, such as the location of Phil Lynott's statue (Harry Street) or which Duke Street pubs feature in Joyce's Ulysses.For our part, we can also confirm that Elvis does not work down the chip shop but as a council street cleaner (or someone very like him). And that some of the finest buskers alive are Slovakian and, in the case of one string quartet, they perform in Carnegie Hall annually.

Australians Joe and Leonie Malvaso are on an Ashes tour in England, made a quick break for Dublin and are lovingthe rain. Joe gets his U2 concert (a happy accident of timing and ticket availability); in return, Leonie gets the museums. Someone is looking for "Saint" Thomas Cook's. A lost Limerick lady wants the EBS; Irving rings her office to get them to Google for directions and the woman is pointed towards Liffey Street. All part of the smiling service. Two small Irish boys are looking for the Luas green line. In between, there is a string of requests for the Book of Kells, the Ha'penny Bridge ("that's how I imagine Dublin", says an Israeli woman), the Viking Splash, the Queen of Tarts café, O'Neill's pub . . . Irving has to replenish her map supply.

Meanwhile, a grey-haired man in funky red-rimmed shades and a pink tie has commandeered Molly’s plinth and proceeds to have an animated conversation with himself while swigging from a bottle concealed in a plastic bag. The tourists are suddenly wary and shrink away. The rest of us perceive authenticity – unlike Molly’s cleavage.