At the height of battle, Mickey Maloney ducks his head to dodge a bottle of whiskey that’s been thrown at him.
It lands on the bed and splashed over the bed where Tim Finnegan’s body is still stretched out.
To everyone’s amazement, the smell of the whisky is enough to raise him from the dead and bring him back to life.
Finnegan shows no sign of surprise, relief or gratitude to find himself suddenly alive again.
Instead, he’s appalled at the behaviour of the mourners. Not because they are fighting and shouting, but because they’ve splashed the whiskey and wasted it. This gives the song its punchline as Finnegan rises from the bed to admonish the mourners, saying:
“Throwin’ the whiskey round like blazes
Thundering Jayzes do you think I’m dead”
The song has a riotous sense of fun about it that can’t help but amuse despite the irreverence. The chorus emphasises the light-heartedness with its talk of dancing and shaking “your trotters” round the floor.
The line “Isn’t it the truth I told ya?” keeps repeating and is, of course, tongue in cheek as the events at the wake become ever more startling.
And this is stereotypical Ireland, of course, so having “lots of fun at Finnegan’s Wake” is almost obligatory.
Finnegan’s Wake contains an underlying joke that is not automatically apparent to non-Irish speakers. The Gaelic for whiskey is uisge beatha, which translated literally means, the water of life.
So when the whiskey splashes over Tim, he is effectively revived by the water of life, which is particularly ironic as it was the whiskey, “the drop of the craythur,” that led to his death in the first place.
The origins of the song are uncertain but it’s quite possible that it started in the Dublin music halls in the 19th century.
There are variations to be found in the lyrics but they are mainly quite minor, usually just slightly different names for the characters.
It takes a long time for regional differences and different versions of a song to emerge so the lack of variety suggest that Finnegan’s Wake was still quite new at the start of the 20th century when it was becoming quite popular.
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