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Tune for Finnegan's Wake
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"Finnegan's Wake" is a ballad that arose in the 1850s in the music-hall tradition of comical Irish songs. The song was a staple of the Irish folk-music group The Dubliners, who played it on many occasions and included it on several albums, and is especially well known to fans of The Clancy Brothers, who have performed and recorded it with Tommy Makem. The song has more recently been recorded by Irish-American Celtic punk band Dropkick Murphys. The song is also a staple in the repertoire of Irish folk band The High Kings, as well as Darby O'Gill, whose version incorporates and encourages audience participation.
In the ballad, the hod-carrier Tim Finnegan, born "with a love for the liquor", falls from a ladder, breaks his skull, and is thought to be dead. The mourners at his wake become rowdy, and spill whiskey over Finnegan's corpse, causing him to come back to life and join in the celebrations. Whiskey causes both Finnegan's fall and his resurrection—whiskey is derived from the Irish phrase uisce beatha (pronounced [ˈiʃkʲə ˈbʲahə]), meaning "water of life".
Tim Finnegan lived in Walkin street,
A gentleman Irish, mighty odd.
He had a brogue both rich and sweet
And to rise in the world he carried a hod.
You see he'd a sort of a tipplin' way
With a love for the liquor he was born.
And to help him on his way each day,
He'd a drop of the craythur ev'ry morn.
Whack fol' the dah, now, dance to your partner.
Wipe the floor, your trotters shake.
Isn't it the truth I told ya?
Lots of fun at Finnegan's wake.
One morning Tim was rather full;
His head felt heavy, which made him shake.
He fell from a ladder and he broke his skull
And they carried him home, his corpse to wake.
They rolled him up in a nice, clean sheet
and laid him out upon the bed
With a bottle of whiskey at his feet
And a barrel of porter at his head.
His friends assembled at the wake
And Mrs. Finnegan called for lunch.
First she brought in tay and cake,
Then pipes, tobacco, and whiskey punch.
Biddy O'Brien began to cry,
"Such a nice clean corpse did you ever see?"
"Arragh, Tim, mavourneen! Why did you die?"
"Arragh, hold yer gob!" says Paddy McGee.
Then Maggie O'Connor took up the job.
"Oh Biddy," says she, "you're wrong, I'm sure."
Biddy gave her a belt in the gob
And left her sprawling on the floor.
Then the war did soon engage;
'Twas woman to woman and man to man.
Shillelagh law was all the rage
And a row and a ruction soon began.
Then Mickey Maloney ducked his head
When a noggin of whiskey flew at him.
It missed, and falling on the bed
The whiskey scattered over Tim.
Tim revives, see how he rises!
Timothy risin' from the bed!
Says' "Whirl your whiskey 'round like blazes,"
"Thanum an Dhul! Do ye think I'm dead?"
Uncommon or non-standard English phrases and terms
- brogue (accent)
- hod (a tool to carry bricks in) (Slang term for a tankard or drinking vessel)
- tippler's way (a tippler is a drunkard)
- craythur (craythur is whiskey, "a drop of the craythur" is an expression to have some whiskey)
- Whack fol the dah (non-lexical vocalsinging called "lilting"; see Scat singing and mouth music it is also punned upon repeatedly by James Joyce as Whack 'fol the Danaan')
- trotters (feet)
- full (drunk)
- mavourneen (my darling)
- hould your gob (shut-up)
- belt in the gob (punch in the mouth)
- Shillelagh law (a brawl)
- ruction (a fight)
- bedad (an expression of shock)
- Thanam 'on dhoul (your soul to the devil)
- The last part of the song where Tim Finnegan says, "Thanum an dhul" ("D'ainm an diabhal"), means "In the name of the devil", and comes from the Irish.
- However, in other versions of the song, Tim says "Thunderin' Jaysus."
Use in literature
"Finnegan's Wake" is famous for providing the basis of James Joyce's final work, Finnegans Wake (1939), in which the comic resurrection of Tim Finnegan is employed as a symbol of the universal cycle of life. As whiskey, the "water of life", causes both Finnegan's death and resurrection in the ballad, so the word "wake" also represents both a passing (into death) and a rising (from sleep). Joyce removed the apostrophe in the title of his novel to suggest an active process in which a multiplicity of "Finnegans", that is, all members of humanity, fall and then wake and arise.
A scene very similar to that of Finnegan's Wake is present in The Shipping News, when the character Jack Buggit is presumed to have drowned after being caught in the rope of a lobster pot, only for him to regain consciousness at his wake.
Many Irish bands have performed Finnegan's Wake including notably:
- The Clancy Brothers on several of their albums, including Come Fill Your Glass with Us (1959), A Spontaneous Performance Recording (1961), Recorded Live in Ireland (1965), and the 1984 Reunion concert at Lincoln Center
- The Dubliners on several live albums.
- Dropkick Murphys on their albums Do or Die and Live on St. Patrick's Day From Boston, MA.
- Brobdingnagian Bards on their album Songs of Ireland.
- The Tossers on their album Communication & Conviction: Last Seven Years.
- Orthodox Celts on their album The Celts Strike Again.
- Darby O'Gill on their album Waitin' for a Ride.
- Ryan's Fancy on their album Newfoundland Drinking Songs.
- Beatnik Turtle on their album Sham Rock
- Irish Rovers
- Christy Moore on his album The Box Set 1964–2004
- Donut Kings on their single Donut Kings Pub With No Beer
- Schooner Fare on their album Finnegan's Wake
- Woods Tea Company on their album The Wood's Tea Co. – Live!
- Steve Benbow on his album Songs of Ireland
- Roger McGuinn in his Folk Den series.
- Dominic Behan on his album Down by the Liffeyside
- Poxy Boggards on their albums Barley Legal and Bitter and Stout
- Seamus Kennedy on his album By Popular Demand
- The High Kings on their albums Memory Lane and Live in Ireland