Finnegan's Wake

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This article is about the ballad. For the book, see Finnegans Wake. For the TV episode, see Finnegan's Wake (Homicide: Life on the Street).
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".[1]

Uncommon or non-standard English phrases and terms[edit]

Non-English phrases:

  • 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[edit]

The song 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.[2][3]

"Finnegan's Wake" is featured as the climax of the primary storyline in Philip José Farmer's award-winning novella, Riders of the Purple Wage.[4]


Many Irish bands have performed Finnegan's Wake including notably:


  1. ^ McHugh, Roland (1981). The Finnegans Wake Experience. University of California Press. p. 7. ISBN 978-0-520-04298-8. 
  2. ^ MacKillop, James (1986). Fionn Mac Cumhaill: Celtic Myth in English Literature. Syracuse University Press. p. 171. ISBN 978-0-8156-2353-3. 
  3. ^ Fargnoli, A. Nicholas; Gillespie, Michael Patrick (1996). James Joyce A to Z: The Essential Reference to the Life and Work. Oxford University Press. p. 76. ISBN 978-0-19-511029-6. 
  4. ^ Seed, David (9 June 2008). A Companion to Science Fiction. John Wiley & Sons. p. 235. ISBN 978-0-470-79701-3. 
  5. ^ Miller, Scott (2010). Music: What Happened?. 125 Records. p. 19. ISBN 978-0-615-38196-1. 
  6. ^ Drew, Ronnie (3 September 2009). Ronnie. New York: Penguin Books Limited. p. 79. ISBN 978-0-14-193003-9. 
  7. ^ Warren, John (2009). Historic Tales from the Adirondack Almanack. History Press. p. 84. ISBN 978-1-59629-727-2.