John Mc Fadden

Baronies of Mayo 1900 Map
View of Chicago from Lakefront
Chicago's World Fair 1893
Edison Phonograph

Composer / Musician

This talented musician produced several airs and songs.  He performed at popular venues in American musical circles.  His compositions were recorded on Edison phonographs.  He also played at Chicago’s World Fair during 1893.

John McFadden was born during at Carramore, Newport, Co. Mayo during 1847.  He emigrated with his family to Chicago, Illinois.  Following formal education his employment commenced with the outdoor staff of the City’s Municipal Parks. (Charlie Keating) [i]

John McFadden was born in the townland of Carrowmore, a few miles north of Westport, County Mayo.  He was an incorrigible practical joker. [ii]

John McFadden was born during 1847 in Carramore, Newport, Co. Mayo.[iii]

Police Officer

He was recruited by Francis O’Neill into the Chicago Police Force. [iv]


His father and mother were fiddlers, he picked up whatever little rudimentary instruction in the home. Written music was a stranger to them, consequently all their tunes were memorized from the whistling and playing of others.  The facility with what Mc Fadden learns new tunes is only equated by his versatility improving variations as he plays them.’ [v]

John Mc Fadden, known as ‘Mack’ by friends, was a phenomenal fiddler. ‘He had an inherited musical ability but also studied in Chicago under Francis O’Neill’s instructor that resulted with an inexhaustible store of Irish traditional tunes.  Everything connected with his playing was original and defiant of all rules of modern ethics; yet the crispness of tone and rhythmic swing of his music were so thrilling that all other sentiments were stifled by admiration.’ [vi]


Initially McFadden entertained in local halls then eventually joined Francis O’Neill’s Chicago’s musical circle with performances all around Chicago as well as other cities also nearby states.  O’Neill noted that their last engagement was at the Chicago World’s Fair during 1893. [vii]

John McFadden performed as a duo with Uilleann piper James Early at concerts also dancing competitions.   [viii]


John McFadden composed several airs & songs: including the following; ‘the Queen of the Fair’, ‘Mc Fadden’s Favourite,’ ‘The Pleasure of Hope,’ ‘The Swallows Tail,’ Mc Fadden’s Handsome Daughter’  also ‘The Humours of Westport.’ (Charlie Keating) [ix]


Mc Fadden was recorded by Francis O’Neill on an early Edison cylinder machine, Philippe Varlet believed O’Neill acquired it after seeing it at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.[x]


John Mc Fadden’s demise occurred during 1913 in Chicago Illinois.[xi]

The demise occurred of John Mc Fadden in 1913. [xii]


According to Francis O’Neill re John Mc Fadden who was then sixty years of age, (Irish Minstrels & Musician 1913 pages 395-396) ‘the airy style of his playing, the clear crispness of his tunes, and the rhythmic swing of his tunes, left nothing to be desired, yet in manipulation of his instrument he violated all the laws of professional ethics.  His bow hand seemed almost wooden in its stiffness, and the bow appeared to be superfluously long, for he seldom used more than half of it.  Possessing the gift of composition as well as execution Mc Fadden is the author of many fine dance tunes, composed without the aid of notes of memoranda, depending altogether on his memory for retention.’ [xiii]

Possessing the gift of composition as well as execution, McFadden was the author of numerous fine dance tunes.  Composed without the aid of notes of memoranda: he depended on his memory for their retention. Similar to the off springs of O ‘Carolan’s brain several of McFadden’s jigs & reels were preserved by others who taught them to him in repetition. [xiv]

Further Information

Despite the number of Irish musicians hired on the Chicago police force, Captain Francis O’Neill generally did not allow himself to be distracted from his work by music, which he kept to home and while visiting friends, however, there were occasions when this was impossible, as O’Neill described: ‘One Monday morning I unexpectedly encountered John McFadden in the corridor outside my office in City Hall, and wondering what could have happened since we parted the evening before, I asked, What brings you here so early, John?’ ‘I wanted to see you privately in your office, Chief’, he quietly replied.  To my suggestion that we could transact our business just as well where we were as in my office, where so many others were waiting, he did not agree, so in we went through three intervening rooms.  When the door was closed behind us Mac did not keep me in suspense.  ‘Chief, I lost the third part of ‘Paddy in London’ which you gave me last night & when I got up this morning, all I could remember were the first and second parts, and I want you to whistle the missing part for me again.’  [xv]

A wax cylinder recording of John Mc Fadden is available at this link:

Several recordings may be heard on this link;

According to the May Fleadh 2012 programme notes John Mc Fadden ‘was also a composer of tunes’ namely the following: ‘The Pleasures Of Hope,’ ‘The Swallow’s Tail,’ ‘McFadden’s Handsome Daughter,’ ‘McFadden’s Favourite,’ ‘The Queen Of The Fair,’ ‘The Humours Of Westport’ ‘The Chicago Reel’ etc. [xvi]

How it was possible that John Mc Fadden acquired his excellent proficiency in execution is surprising according to the publisher of this article.  Yet when one  considers the beauty of Chinese & Japanese workmanship accomplished with the aid of crude tools in comparison with the Irish instruments one may understand.[xvii]

This site features the notation of ‘Queen of the Fair’: _of_the_Fair

This site may be of interest:

An YouTube video may be viewed at this link produced on 4th October 2016 ‘The Swallows Tail’ :

One may listen to various tunes by John Mc Fadden at this site:

John Mc Fadden’s demise during 1913 caused him to miss out on the start of recorded Irish music.  There are a few tantalizing wax recordings but  they are of very poor sound quality.  However  through the crackles & hiss you can hear the obvious mastery of his playing. (Tony O’Rourke 23rd November 2015) [xviii]

Various publications may be of interest: Hughes Gems from the Emerald Isles’ 1867  (O’Neill) 1976, O’Neill’s Irish Music 1915 no. 136 (page 79),  (O’NeillKrassen  1903 (page 60) (O’Neill) Music of Ireland, Melodies 1850 no. 1040 (page 194)  (O’Neill)  Dance Music of Ireland: 1001 Gems’ No. 250  (page 55) [xix]


Mayo News Centenary Supplement  2nd March 1994


[i] Cathair na Mart Historical Journal 2012 vol. 30







[viii] Cathair na Mart Historical Journal 2012 vol. 30

[ix] Ibid












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