Jacky Tar

Hornpipe, Em, Traditional
TrailJams Tune of the Week for September 30, 2021

Jacky Tar (or Jackie Tar) is a traditional hornpipe played in Irish sessions. It has a lot of similarity to the tune The Cuckoo’s Nest, and it sometimes goes by that name. For accompanying contra dance, the tune is played at a faster tempo and with less of the distinctive hornpipe swing (in other words, it is played more like a reel). Jacky Tar or Jack Tar is an old nickname for sailors on wooden ships, where the sailor’s hands and clothes would be stained from the tar used on the ships. A hornpipe is traditionally a sailors dance, perhaps because it can be danced by one person in a small space.


Dots (Music Notation)

As always for traditional tunes, the musical notation and chords do not indicate the “right” way to play the tune, but are a useful reference.

Play from the Dots
Slow tempo 60bpm
Moderate tempo 75bpm

Alternative Chords

These are the same chords as in the “dots,” except the bass notes are different as indicated by the “slash” chords.

(A part)
Em – | G – | D D/A | D/F# D
Em C | G G/B | D D/A | E m
(B part)
Em – | Em – | D – | D D/B
Em C | G G/B | D D/A | Em


Examples of sets that include this tune.

  • Off to California / Jacky Tar
  • Jacky Tar / The Rights of Man
  • Chief O’Neill’s Favourite / Jacky Tar / The Plains Of Boyle

References and Resources

For those that want to dig deeper, here are some other resources.