Finnegan's Wake

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"Finnegan's Wake" is an Irish-American comic ballad, first published in New York in 1864.[1][2][3] Various 19th-century variety theatre performers, including Dan Bryant of Bryant's Minstrels, claimed authorship but a definitive account of the song's origin has not been established. An earlier popular song, John Brougham's "A Fine Ould Irish Gintleman," also included a verse in which an apparently dead alcoholic was revived by the power of whiskey.[4]

In more recent times, "Finnegan's Wake" 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 performed and recorded it with Tommy Makem. The song has been recorded by Irish-American Celtic punk band Dropkick Murphys.


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 [ˈɪʃcə ˈbʲahə]), meaning "water of life".[5]

Hiberno-English phrases and terms[edit]

Non-English phrases:

  • Thanam 'on dhoul (Irish: D'anam 'on diabhal, "your soul to the devil") 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), not to mention the wake of the lifeship traveling in between. 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.[15][16]

"Finnegan's Wake" is featured at the climax of the primary storyline in Philip José Farmer's award-winning novella, Riders of the Purple Wage.[17]


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


  1. ^ "Finigan's wake; Popular Irish song / Historic American Sheet Music / Duke Digital Repository".
  2. ^ "052.003 - Finigans Wake. Popular Comic Song. | Levy Music Collection".
  3. ^ Frank McNally, 'Manhattan Transfer', An Irishman's Diary, The Irish Times, 5 November 2019
  4. ^ "Finnegan's Wake Origins".
  5. ^ McHugh, Roland (1981). The Finnegans Wake Experience. University of California Press. p. 7. ISBN 978-0-520-04298-8.
  6. ^ brogue, noun Cambridge Dictionaries Online
  7. ^ hod, noun Cambridge Dictionaries Online
  8. ^ tippler, noun Cambridge Dictionaries Online
  9. ^ craythur, noun Merriam-Webster Dictionary
  10. ^ trotter, noun Merriam-Webster Dictionary
  11. ^ mavourneen, noun Merriam-Webster Dictionary
  12. ^ hold your gob shut, phrase Cambridge Online Dictionaries
  13. ^ ructions, noun Cambridge Online Dictionaries
  14. ^ bedad, interjection Merriam-Webster Dictionary
  15. ^ MacKillop, James (1986). Fionn Mac Cumhaill: Celtic Myth in English Literature. Syracuse University Press. p. 171. ISBN 978-0-8156-2353-3.
  16. ^ 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.
  17. ^ Seed, David (9 June 2008). A Companion to Science Fiction. John Wiley & Sons. p. 235. ISBN 978-0-470-79701-3.
  18. ^ Miller, Scott (2010). Music: What Happened?. 125 Records. p. 19. ISBN 978-0-615-38196-1.
  19. ^ Drew, Ronnie (3 September 2009). Ronnie. New York: Penguin Books Limited. p. 79. ISBN 978-0-14-193003-9.
  20. ^ Warren, John (2009). Historic Tales from the Adirondack Almanack. History Press. p. 84. ISBN 978-1-59629-727-2.
  21. ^ Archived at Ghostarchive and the Wayback Machine: Hooligans, The. "Finnegan's Wake". Youtube.

External links[edit]