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Finnegan's Wake

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Melody: Finnegan's Wake (Duration: 0:50) [Artist: Unknown]

Melody: Finnegan's Wake (Duration: 0:28) [Artist: Unknown]
Finnegan's Wake

Tim Finnegan lived in Walkin' Street
A gentleman, Irish, mighty odd;
He had a brogue both rich and sweet
An' to rise in the world he carried a hod.
Now Tim had a sort of the tipplin' way
With a love of the whiskey he was born
And to help him on with his work each day
He'd a "drop of the craythur" every morn.


Whack fol the dah O, dance to your partner,
Whirl the floor, your trotters shake;
Wasn't it the truth I told you?
Lots of fun at Finnegan's wake!

One mornin' Tim was feelin' full,
His head was heavy which made him shake;
He fell from the ladder and broke his skull,
And they carried him home his corpse to wake.
They rolled him up in a nice clean sheet
And laid him out upon the bed,
A gallon of whiskey at his feet
And a barrel of porter at his head.


His friends assembled at the wake
And Mrs. Finnegan called for lunch,
First they brought in tay and cake
Then pipes, tobacco and whiskey punch.
Biddy O'Brien began to bawl,
"Such a nice clean corpse, did you ever see?"
"O Tim, mavourneen, why did you die?"
"Arragh, hold your gob," said Paddy McGhee!


Then Maggie O'Connor took up the job
"O Biddy," says she, "You're wrong, I'm sure."
Biddy she gave her a belt in the gob,
And left her sprawlin' on the floor.
Civil war did then engage,
'Twas woman to woman and man to man;
Shillelagh law was all the rage,
And a row and a ruction soon began.


Then Mickey Maloney ducked his head
When a noggin of whiskey flew at him,
It missed, and falling on the bed
The liquor scattered over Tim!
The corpse revives! See how he raises!
Timothy rising from the bed,
Says,"Whirl your whiskey around like blazes
Thanum an Dhul! Do you thunk I'm dead?"


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"Finnegan's Wake" is a song, called a street ballad, that arose perhaps in the 1850s. It is one of several mock-Irish stage songs that were very popular in 19th-century American vaudeville. It is famous for being the basis of James Joyce's masterwork, Finnegans Wake, where the comic resurrection becomes symbolic of a universal cycle of life. Whiskey, which brought both Finnegan's fall and his resurrection, is derived from Irish uisce beatha, meaning "water of life." So too, the word "wake" is both of a passing and of a new rising. Joyce removed the apostrophe in the title to assert an active process in which a multiplicity of "Finnegans," that is, all of us, wake, that is, arise after falling.

Tim Finnegan is the main character in James Joyce's book "Finnegans Wake" (mind the omission of the apostrophe in the book title).

Irish Glossary:
brogue = a strong dialectal accent, notably in Irish dialects of the English language. It is from the Irish (Gaeilge) word "brog," meaning "shoe." The term was reputedly coined by an Englishman who met an Irishman whose accent was so thick that he spoke "as though he had a shoe in his mouth." The term is also used in reference to Scots, Scottish English, and other Gaelic influenced dialects.

hod = a tool used to carry bricks and mortar. It was a wooden box with a pole affixed underneath the box. A hod carrier is someone that had the job of climbing the scaffolding at a worksite and carrying the load in the hod to the masons.

The "Irish Wake" is an integral part of the grieving process for family, friends, and neighbors of the deceased, Irish wakes were occasions that mixed gaiety and sadness. The custom was a celebration of the life that had passed, but the tone of the wake depended largely on the circumstances of the death.

A wake usually began at the time of death and lasted until the family left with the body for the funeral service. If a death occurred in the evening, the wake was not held until the following night to allow mourners to travel and prepare for the services.

Preparations for the wake began soon after death. All clocks in the house were stopped as a sign of respect, and women gathered to bathe and dress the body. The deceased often wore white garments, and if a man died, his face was shaved clean before being dressed. The body was then lain out for viewing on a table or bed, and was not left unattended until the burial. All mirrors in the household were also removed or turned around.

Immediately after they prepare the body, the women begin keening. This vocal lamentation is a display of mourning and sounds a bit like wailing to those who are not accustomed to it. Superstition holds that keening must not begin until after the body is prepared, or evil spirits will surround the wake and body.

The Irish also celebrated the life of the deceased, and shared food and drink throughout the wake. Music, dancing, and physical games made the wake feel more like a party. The Catholic church has tried numerous times (unsuccessfully) throughout history to abolish the consumption of alcohol at wakes. Though it is a time of sadness, the presence of friends and family makes it more bearable and there is generally great joviality as the deceased is fondly remembered; indeed, there is tradition in some parts of the country to play a game of cards and include a hand for the deceased.

mavourneen = My darling - Irish Gaelic - mo mhuirín

craythur = Whisky

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        Revision:  18 March 2006
Last modified:  22 November 2009