Saturday, March 17, 2018

The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem, "Finnegan's Wake"

James Joyce's Finnegan's Wake, reckoned one of the most difficult books to read, took its title and a tiny bit of its narrtive from an Irish comic ballad, author unknown, first heard in the 1850s. It tells the story of a bricklayer who, having had "a drop of the craythur" before work, falls from his ladder and dies. At his wake, "a row and a ruction" starts, until whiskey spills on his corpse. This revives him.

I heard the song first as "New Finnegans Wake" on a now out of print Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem vinyl album "Recorded Live in Ireland." What was "new" about it was Liam Clancy's announcement that, to introduce the song, his brother Tom would read the entire Joyce novel. Tom then read these connected excerpts from the first few pages:
Bygmester Finnegan, of the Stuttering Hand, freemen’s mau-rer, lived in the broadest way immarginable in his rushlit toofar — back for messuages before joshuan judges had given us numbers or Helviticus committed deuteronomy. ... During mighty odd years this man of hod, cement and edi-fices in Toper’s Thorp piled buildung supra buildung pon the banks for the livers by the Soangso. ... A waalworth of a skyerscape ... entowerly, erigenating from next to nothing, ... with a burning bush abob off its baubletop and with larrons o’toolers clittering up and tombles a’buckets clottering down. Of the first was he to bare arms and a name: Wassaily Boos-laeugh of Riesengeborg. ... Hahahaha, Mister Finn, you’re going to be fined again! ... Hohohoho, Mister Funn, you’re going to be Mister Finnagain! ,,, But Dimb! He stot-tered from the latter. Damb! he was dud.
There's no video available of this version of the song, but here are the Clancys doing it without Tom's introduction, but with a preferatory explanation of how the song inspired Joyce: