Back to McMahon's Reel
McMAHON'S REEL (Ríl Mhic Mhathúna). AKA - "MacMahon's Hornpipe." AKA and see "Banshee (1) (The)," "Moyasta (The)." Irish, Reel. G Major. Standard tuning (fiddle). AABB. The most famous composition of the flute player James McMahon (1893-1977), originally from Cornacreeve, Dresternian, Roslea, Co. Fermanagh, and still a popular session tune. McMahon married a woman named Rose (although some sources have given her name as 'Sally'--see "Sally McMahon's") and moved near Muckamore, County Antrim, although later in life he lived in Belfast. [McMahon's granddaughter, Rose McMahon writes to correct: "My paternal grandmother's name was Rose, not Sally, from Pomeroy in County Tyrone...her maiden name was Tally, so I suppose that's where the confusion with Sally came from."] He was highly regarded by many of the flute players of the latter city, according to Harry Bradley, who says that famous flute maker Sam Murray considers him important in development of the playing of the instrument there. McMahon was a member of the early McPeake's Ceili Band.
"McMahon's Reel" became well-known by the alternate title "Banshee (1) (The)", popularized by the Bothy Band, who recorded it on their influential 1975 album. However, in recent years that title has subsided and "McMahon's" is the name now more often heard. Paul de Grae tells the story that the tune was derisively called "The Banshee" by a ceili band announcer who either did not like McMahon, his tune, or both! However, Randy Miller (2006) writes that McMahon originally entitled his tune "The Banshee," though when first published in the 1960s by Liam Donnelly (who collected it directly from McMahon), it was titled "James McMahon's No. 3." See "James McMahon's Jig" and "Ivory Flute (The)" for other McMahon tunes (McMahon indeed played an ivory-headed flute).
There is a marked melodic resemblance between "McMahon's"/"The Banshee" and Sweet Flowers of Milltown, a schottische recorded in the 78 rpm era by north Galway flute player Tom Morrison. It is entirely possible that Morrison's recording inspired the creation of McMahon's reel.
Sources for notated versions: fiddler John Loughram, 1968 (Pomeroy, Co. Tyrone, Ireland) [Breathnach]; John Doonan [Bulmer & Sharpley].
Printed sources: Liam Donnelly (Co. Fermanagh Dance Tunes), 1966-67, p. 14 (as "James McMahon's No. 3"). Breathnach (CRÉ II), 1976; No. 273, pp. 140-141. Brody (Fiddler's Fakebook), 1983; p. 185. Bulmer & Sharpley (Music from Ireland), 1974, vol. 1, No. 4. Miller & Perron (Traditional Irish Fiddle Music), 1977; vol. 2, No. 32 (as "MacMahon's Hornpipe"). Miller & Perron (Irish Traditional Fiddle Music), 2nd Edition, 2006; p. 88. Mallinson (100 Essential), 1995; No. 18, p. 8. Taylor (Through the Half-Door), 1992; No. 38, p. 27.
Recorded sources: Green Linnet SIF 3064, Dick Gaughan - "Coppers and Brass" (originally Topic 315). Leader LER 2086, "The Boys of the Lough."
Shananchie 79002, "The Boys of the Lough" (1973). Shaskeen - "Shaskeen Live." Trailer 2086, "Boys of the Lough."
See also listings at:
Jane Keefer's Folk Music Index: An Index to Recorded Sources 
Alan Ng's Irishtune.info 
Hear whistle player Maitiú Ó Fathaigh play the tune at the Comhaltas Archive 
Hear flute player John Lee play the tune at the Comhaltas Archive