Michael Finnegan (song)

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Michael Finnegan (variant spellings include Michael Finnagen and Michael Vinnegan) is an example of an unboundedly long song, which can continue with numerous variations until the singer decides (or is forced) to stop. Like most other perpetual songs, this song tends to be sung by schoolchildren. It is a popular song often sung around a campfire or during scouting events. The origin of the words and music is unknown, but the earliest documented reference is The Hackney Scout Song Book (Stacy & Son Ltd, 1921). It also appears in The Oxford song book, vol.2, collected and arranged by Thomas Wood (Oxford University Press, 1927).

Lyrics[edit]

There are many popular versions of this traditional ballad, the common factor seems to be starting with the single verse:

There once was a man named Michael Finnegan,
He had three whiskers on his chinnegan,
The wind came up and blew them in ag'in,
Poor old Michael Finnegan (begin ag'in)

There once was a man named Michael Finnegan,
He grew whiskers on his chinnegan,
Shaved them off and they grew in ag'in,
Poor old Michael Finnegan (ag'in ag'in ag'in)

Alternative versions replace "Shaved them off" with "Wind blew them off" or "The wind came out and blew them in ag'in" or "They grew out and they grew in ag'in"

In all popular versions each four-line verses starts with the line "There was an old man named Michael Finnegan" and ends with the words "Poor old Michael Finnegan (begin ag'in)", leading to another verse. For example (Merry Ditties, Norman Cazden, 1958):

There once was a man named Michael Finnegan,
He grew whiskers on his chinnigin,
Shaved them off and they grew in ag'in,
Poor old Michael Finnegan (begin ag'in)

There once was a man named Michael Finnegan
He kicked up an awful dinnegan,
because they said he must not sin again
Poor old Michael Finnegan (begin ag'in)

There once was a man named Michael Finnegan,
He got drunk from too much ginnigin
So he wasted all this tinnigin,
Poor old Michael Finnegan (begin ag'in)

There once was a man named Michael Finnegan,
He went fishing with a pinnigin,
Caught a fish but he dropped it in ag'in,
Poor old Michael Finnegan (begin ag'in)

There once was a man named Michael Finnegan,
Climbed a tree and hit his shinnigin,
Took off several yards of skinnigin,
Poor old Michael Finnegan (begin ag'in)

There once was a man named Michael Finnegan,
He kicked up an awful dinnigin
Because they said he must not sing ag'in,
Poor old Michael Finnegan (begin ag'in)

There once was a man named Michael Finnegan,
He grew fat and he grew thin ag'in,
Then he died, and was born as him ag'in,
Poor old Michael Finnegan (begin ag'in)

Although 1921 is the earliest documented reference, in Songs and Slang of the British Soldier: 1914-1918, 2nd ed. (Eric Partridge Ltd. Scholartis Press, 1930) it indicates an earlier (non repeating) First World War version:

Poor old Michael Finnegan,
He grew whiskers on his chinnigan.
Shaved them off and they grew in ag'in,
And that's the end of poor Michael Finnegan.

Other verses:

There once was a man named Michael Finnegan, Had some whiskers on his chinnigan. They fell out and they grew innagain. Now repeat again.

There was a man named Michael Finnegan,
Had a wife called Biddy Finnegan,
She chased him out, then chased him in agin--
Which confused Michael Finnegan, begin agin.

There was a man named Michael Finnegan,
Had a daughter, Katherine Finnegan,
She had her a job as a manniquinnagin,
Pretty Katherine Finnegan, begin agin.

The Complete Children's Songbook (Hansen House, 1975, 1986) has a final verse which mocks its own repetitiveness:

There was an old man named Michael Finnegan
He grew fat and then grew thin ag'in
then he died, and had to begin ag'in
Poor old Michael, please don't begin ag'in

An alternative ending is:

Poor old Michael Finnegan! Stop!

See also[edit]