Although this tune is listed as a polka (it’s in 2/4) and can be played as such, it is in fact the music to a song which goes back to the 1850’s. This version was performed by the Clacy’s. Note that the tune is not the same as the Finnegan’s Wake you’ll find in O’Neill - the O’Neill tune is actually very closely related to The Spanish Lady.
Currently there is a comedy play series on BBC Radio called "Faithful Departed", about a firm of undertakers (morticians in the USA, I believe) in Cork. The intro music is a simple piano version of the tune here submitted, and is most appropriate, given the nature of the comedy.
A typical line in one of the radio scripts was "And who delivered a 6-foot coffin to a grave only 4-feet long?" And if you think that’s over the top, hear this.
About a year ago our parish priest was having tea with us and he told us about a disastrous funeral in the parish the week before when he was away on holiday. First, the locum priest wore the wrong vestments, then during the funeral Mass he announced a hymn as number 12 - but the organist had hymn 112 on her list. More was to come. At the cemetery, when the coffin was being lowerd into the grave it was discovered that the grave was an inch or two too short and the coffin got stuck. When they tried to get the coffin out, the lid came off. The situation wasn’t helped by a young lad by the graveside who asked why couldn’t the coffin be put in upright. Said young lad then got a smack round the head.
Now after all that, here are the words of Finnegan’s Wake:
Tim Finnegan lived in Walkin’ Street
A gentleman, Irish, mighty odd;
He had a brogue both rich and sweet
And 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 cray-thur" every morn.
Whack fol the darn 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.
And then the war did soon 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?"
My error! I had the O’Neill version and this side by side, and I picked up the wrong tune type by mistake. The O’Neill Finnegan’s Wake is a polka in 2/4. This isn’t.
ends on C but is it in Am?
I’m not a music expert, but when I was listening to this it sounded like a minor key so I looked up on the Session to see the key and it says Cmaj. I see the previous comment asking if it’s Amin. Any thoughts from people more knowledgable than I?
Am vs Cmaj
All versions I’ve heard have chords C Am F G, which is clearly Cmaj. Looking at the melody alone it’s easy to think it’s in Amin since a C doesn’t show up until the 3rd measure - but the fun nature of the song speaks a major key to me. btw - does anyone know the 2 reels that The Irish Rovers toss in a breaks in this recording - the first in Ador and the second in Edor. http://youtu.be/L6QTwZDzak4
I’m starting to get disheartened with the number of times that this site eats my posts …
Shortened version: it’s in C. I can see no reason to even think that it might have anything to do with A min.
Am vs Cmaj
A-minor is the relative minor to C-major meaning that they have the same key signature (same sharps and/or flats…or none, in this case). This is why they are sometimes confused and should more or less sound equally happy or sad. I find melodies in C major to sound a bit on the sad side due to the F natural, but the chord sounds more upbeat, probably because of the G that’s in there. Anyway, the song is in C major because the tonic (last note) is a C. If it ended on an A, it would be in A minor…and might sound slightly sadder.
Did this tune precede the book, or the other way round?
The tune/song precedes the book. As Trevor said 10 years ago, "…the music to a song which goes back to the 1850s…" Finnegans Wake - the novel - was written between 1922 and 1939.
Are there any other books that are based on songs? I bet there are, but I do not know any. Help me out here, friends!