Nanky Doodle

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X:1 T:Nanky Doodle M:2/4 L:1/8 R:Air B:Stephen Grier music manuscript collection (Book 3, c. 1883, No. 208, p. 63) B: N:Stephen Grier (c. 1824-1894) was a piper and fiddler from N:Newpark, Bohey, Gortletteragh, south Co. Leitrim. Z:AK/Fiddler’s Companion K:Ador AcBA|GFEF|GABc|d2G2|AcBA GFEg|edcB|A2A2:| |:cBcA|dddG|cBcA|d2G2|cBcA|Bcdg|edcB|A2A2:|]

NANKY DOODLE. Irish, Air (2/4 time). A Dorian. Standard tuning (fiddle). AABB. "Nanky Doodle" is an air that was entered into Book 3 of the large c. 1883 music manuscript collection of County Leitrim piper and fiddler Stephen Grier (c. 1824-1894). The title is very close to the familiar "Yankee Doodle," however there is no musical relation between the tunes. However, the title was a precursor to the "Yankee Doodle" title. One much repeated (in an number of variations) 19th century story put forth the origins of Nanky/Yankee Doodle could be traced to the English Civil War when the air "Nancy Dawson (1)" was composed (familiar nowadays as the children's rhyme "Here we go round the mulberry bush"), and alternate words were set to it by a Loyalist, deriding Oliver Cromwell. One of the verses was:

Nanky Doodle came to town,
Riding on a pony;
With a feather in his hat
Upon a macaroni.

A 'doodle' formerly referred to "a sorry trifling fellow", while a macaroni was the knot on which the feather was fastened. The air familiar to us as "Yankee Doodle" was supposed to have begun life as the vehicle for "Lydia Fisher," which appeared in New England around the year 1713 and gained vogue as a jig. It was the practice to sing it with impromptu verses, such as:

Lucy Locket lost her pocket,
Lydia Fisher found it;
Not a bit of money in it,
Only binding round it.

The story further goes that a British Army surgeon (or sergeant) composed a song in 1755 in Albany, N.Y. (or Boston), with the title "Yankee Doodle" (instead of "Nanky Doodle"), in derision of the uncouth appearance of New England troops assembled there. It employed the "Lydia Fisher's Jig" melody, and soon found solid purchase as a martial melody. An unknown author penned the words we now know as "Yankee Doodle" in 1775, after the arrival of Washington in Cambridge, the original Yankee Doodle song of the American Revolution [1].

The above is the gist of the origin story by John W. Watson, first printed in the second edition of his Annals of Philadelphia (vol. 2, 1844, pp. 333-335), and repeated in variations and further embellishments since then. Unfortunately, much of the tale has been condensed, conjecture or simply erroneous. There is scant evidence, for example of any song called "Nanky Doodle" in the historical record. Unfortunately, there is also no clue as to where Irishman Grier might have obtained his "Nanky Doodle." See tune and notes for "Kitty Fisher's Jig" and "Yankee Doodle Dandy."

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  1. Henry Dudley Teetor, The Nathional Magazine : A Monthly Journal of American History, volume 14, 1891, p. 408.