Many fiddle tunes played at dances and sessions go by the title “Don’t know the name of that one” or simply “Unknown.” The Irish-language equivalent is the familiar “Gan Ainm,” meaning “without name.” But many tunes do have names that are known and recognized wherever musicians gather to play. In Part I, let’s look at some familiar tune titles that conjure up visions of past events and historic figures.
The USS Constitution sailed from Boston, Massachusetts, on August 2, 1812, bound for a raiding cruise off Nova Scotia, the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and Newfoundland. Commanding Officer Isaac Hull’s mission was to find and engage any active Royal Navy frigates. On the afternoon of August 18, some 400 miles southeast of the British base at Halifax, a sail was sighted that turned out to be HMS Guerriere and a battle commenced the next day.
“Guerriere’s captain, James R. Dacres, was also spoiling for a fight. Despite his ship’s disadvantages in number and size of guns, and number of crewmen, the long British tradition of victory in ship-to-ship combat against European enemies provided reasonable grounds for Dacres’ aggressive optimism,” according to an article published online by the Naval Historical Center. The weather was windy and cloudy and the initial exchange of fire produced few hits and little damage, but as the two ships drew alongside, the battle intensified. “A quarter-hour of intense gunnery by Constitution, delivered with much superior accuracy, battered Guerriere in the hull and masts. The British frigate’s mizzenmast fell over the side, crippling her ability to maneuver. Constitution then moved ahead to rake Guerriere, whose bowsprit caught in the American’s mizzen rigging.