"Finnegan's Wake" is a ballad that arose in the 1850s in the music-hall tradition of comical Irish songs. The song is a staple of the Irish folk-music group, The Dubliners, who have 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.
In the ballad, the hod-carrier Tim Finnegan, born "with a love for the liquor", falls from a ladder, fractures 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".
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 in order to suggest an active process in which a multiplicity of "Finnegans", that is, all members of humanity, fall and then wake and arise.
"Finnegan's Wake" is also featured as the climax of the primary storyline in Philip José Farmer's award-winning novella, Riders of the Purple Wage.
Tim Finnegan lived in Walken 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 send him on his way each day,
He'd a drop of the craythur every morn'
Whack fol' the dah will ya dance to your partner
Round 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 off the ladder and he broke his skull
And they carried him home, his corpse to wake
Rolled him up in a nice, clean sheet
laid him out upon the bed
With a bottle of whiskey at his feet
And a barrel of porter at his head
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