Manhattan Transfer – Frank McNally on the surprise origins of a classic Irish drinking ballad, Finnegan’s Wake

“This classic musical account of an Irish wake, so accidentally influential on modernist literature, was a product of the Big Apple, in an era when one-third of that city’s population was newly arrived from Ireland”

“This classic musical account of an Irish wake, so accidentally influential on modernist literature, was a product of the Big Apple, in an era when one-third of that city’s population was newly arrived from Ireland”

It appears that in declaring Tim Finnegan of ballad fame to have been from Dublin’s Watling Street, as I did here on Saturday, I was wrong. He was in fact from a place slightly west of there: New York. But we’ll come back to that in a moment. First, I need to blame my mistake on Dominic Behan.

In most modern versions of the song Finnegan’s Wake, the dead man, restored to life by an accidental dose of whiskey, is said to have lived either in “Walkin” or “Watling” Street. And since there is no Walkin Street in Dublin – the one in Kilkenny can be ruled out of our inquiries – Watling Street makes a thoroughly plausible setting.

Please subscribe or sign in to continue reading.
only €1 first month

Insightful opinion is just a away.