John Mc Fadden

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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. [i]  He was an incorrigible practical joker. [ii]  He was recruited by Francis O’Neill into the Chicago Police Force. [iii]


‘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’. [iv]   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.’ [v]

Musical Career

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 plus nearby states.  O’Neill noted that their last engagement was at the Chicago World’s Fair during 1893. [vi] John McFadden performed as a duo with Uilleann piper James Early at concerts plus dancing competitions.  [vii]


McFadden composed many airs and 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’ plus ‘The Humours of Westport.’  [viii]


Mc Fadden was recorded by Francis O’Neill on an early Edison cylinder machine, Philippe Varlet believes O’Neill acquired it after seeing it at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.  [ix]t Recordings may be heard on this link; [x]

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


According to Francis O’Neill re Mc Fadden who was then sixty years of age, (in the Irish Minstrels and Musician 1913 pgs 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.’ [xii]


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 describes:

‘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.’  [xiii]  



Cathair na Mart Historical Journal, 2012 Vol. 30 Charlie Keating Page 79

Mayo News Centenary Supplement; 2nd March 1994…/Musician…/…/James-Early.htm

[i] Cathair na Mart Historical Journal, 2012 Vol. 30 Charlie Keating







[viii] Cathair na Mart Historical Journal, 2012 Vol. 30 Charlie Keating






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