Bards Irish Fiddle Tunebook Supplement/Finnegan's Wake

"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, 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 (Template:IPA-ga), meaning "water of life".

Uncommon or non-standard English phrases and termsEdit

  • brogue (accent)
  • hod (a tool to carry bricks in)
  • tipplers way (a tippler is a drunkard)
  • craythur (a craythur is a bowl to serve alcohol in, "a drop of the craythur" is an expression to have some whiskey)
  • Whack fol the dah (a kind of scat-like nonsense called "lilting", nonsense that sounds good in the song)
  • trotters (feet)
  • full (drunk)
  • mavourneen (my darling)
  • hould your gob (shut-up)
  • belt in the gob (punch in the face)
  • Shillelagh law (a brawl)
  • ruction(a fight)
  • Bedad (an expression of shock)
  • Thanam 'on dhoul (your soul to the devil)

Use in literatureEdit

"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.

A scene very similar to that of Finnegan's Wake is present in The Shipping News, when the character Jack Buggit is presumed to have drowned after being caught in the rope of a lobster pot, only for him to regain consciousness at his wake.



  • The last part of the song where Tim Finnegan says, "D'ainm an diabhal", means Your soul(s) to the Devil and comes from the Gaelic.
  • However, in other versions of the song, Tim says "Thunderin' Jaysus" or "Thanum an Dhul".