Michael Coleman (musician)

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Michael Coleman (January 31, 1891 – January 4, 1945) was an Irish fiddler.

Early years[edit]

Michael Coleman was born in Knockgrania, in the rural Killavil district, near Ballymote, County Sligo, Ireland. His father, James Coleman, was from Banada in County Roscommon, and a respected flute player. Michael was the seventh child of James and Beatrice, and the surviving half of a pair of twins.

As a child he learned step dancing and fiddle playing, and performed at local houses. His elder brother Jim had a high reputation but was never recorded. In his formative years Michael was influenced by Uilleann pipers (a type of bagpipe), including Johnny Gorman.

He left school in 1908, at the age of 17. He competed at the Sligo Feis Ceoil in 1909 and again in 1910, and was placed joint third on both occasions. In 1914 he moved to Manchester, England to live with his older brother Pat, but returned home after several months.

Emigration to the United States[edit]

In October 1914, at the age of twenty-three, Coleman sailed to America with his friend John Hunt. Initially he stayed with his aunt in Lowell, Massachusetts and joined the Keith Theatres vaudeville circuit playing the fiddle while dancing at the same time. In 1917, he settled in New York City, and married Marie Fanning, originally from County Monaghan, Ireland. They had one child, Mary.

Between 1921 and 1936 he recorded roughly eighty 78-rpm records for many record labels, including: Shannon, Vocalion Records, Columbia Records, Okeh Records, New Republic, Pathe, O'Beirne de Witt, Victor Records, Brunswick Records, and Decca Records. Some of these were re-issued under the Intrepid, Coral Records, and Ace of Hearts labels. He was mainly accompanied by pianists, but on some recordings he used guitarists.

Coleman was one of the most famous exponents of what is today known as the Sligo style. The Sligo fiddle style is fast and flamboyant, and heavily ornamented with rolls and triplets. James Morrison is another exponent of this style, although there are some noticeable differences. Coleman in particular used variations to enhance the melody of the tune, and his settings of tunes such as Boys of the Lough, Bonny Kate, and Lord Gordon's have become part of the standard repertoire. Michael's records reached County Sligo, and influenced a new generation. He died in New York City, and is buried in St. Raymond's Cemetery, in the Bronx.


Coleman's influence on traditional fiddle playing is substantial. Every generation since has been influenced by his recordings either directly or indirectly. Most notably, he has influenced fiddle players such as Lad O'Beirne, Martin Wynne, Ben Lennon, Martin Byrnes and many others.

In 1974, a monument was erected by the Coleman Traditional Society. It is close to his birthplace, on the Tubbercurry to Gurteen road. Nearby is the Coleman Heritage Centre, a music archive and a replica of the house where he lived. The monument bears this inscription:

"Michael Coleman. Master of the fiddle. Saviour of Irish traditional music. Born near this spot in 1891. Died in exile 1945."


  • Irish Jigs and Reels - Coral LP CRL 57369
  • The Enduring Magic (2004)
  • Michael Coleman 1889–1945
  • (Various Artists) Past Masters of Irish Fiddle Music

External links[edit]