Finnegans Wake


"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]

Hiberno-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 poteen (Poitín), "a drop of the craythur" is an expression to have some poteen)
  • 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)

Non-English phrases:

  • Thanam 'on dhoul (Irish: Th'anam 'on diabhal, "your soul to the devil") However, in other versions of the song, Tim says "Thunderin' Jaysus."
Use in literature

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.[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:

  • 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.[5]
  • The Dubliners on several live albums.[6]
  • Dropkick Murphys on their albums Do or Die and Live on St. Patrick's Day From Boston, MA.[7]
  • 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.
  • 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
  • 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
  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. 
External links
  • The full text of Finnegan's Wake at Wikisource

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