Doherty, John (c.1895–1980), traditional fiddler, was born in Ardara, Co. Donegal, youngest of the five sons and four daughters of Michael ‘Mickey’ Doherty (c.1850–1934), musician and tinsmith, of the Simey branch of Dohertys of Lettermacaward, Co. Donegal, and Mary Doherty (née McConnell; b. 1859) of Ardara. The Dohertys claimed descent from the hereditary pipers to the clan chieftains of Donegal; Tarlach Mac Suibhne (qv) of Gweedore was a great-uncle. From his father, who played both the fiddle and the Highland pipes, he learnt tinsmithing and much of his music. His mother was a singer and lilter, and two of her brothers were fiddlers. All four of John's brothers and his sister Mary also played the fiddle.
John Doherty was the best-known south-Donegal-style fiddler, and, indeed, is considered one of the leading fiddle players of his time in Ireland. Besides family members, the major influences on his music included Neil O'Boyle (1889–1961) of the Dungloe area, Co. Donegal, recordings of Sligo fiddlers, and recordings (1905–23) of the Scottish fiddler James Scott Skinner. Doherty was recorded several times for radio and television, beginning with the 1947 oireachtas in Dublin, where he won a gold medal. After this he played at concerts and became sought after by collectors. He spent some years in Carrick as a full-time musician. After a short illness, he next spent some time with relatives in Árd McCool, Stranorlar, before returning to travelling in south Donegal. He spoke both English and Irish. Commercially successful records of his music and storytelling were brought out in the 1970s.
Despite John's prowess, his brother Michael ‘Mickey’ Doherty (qv), also an acclaimed fiddler, was broadcast more often, possibly because he led a settled existence for some years and was therefore more easily contacted, whereas John continually travelled to play, teach music, and sell his wares. His maternal uncles had played duets, and he too often played duets with his brothers Mickey and Simon (1883–1911), a blacksmith (whose son Simon is also a fiddler); some duet samples were recorded c.1960 by Breandán Breathnach (qv). John Doherty's large repertoire included rare Donegal reels, many other dance tunes, airs, laments, marches, set pieces, and some music hall numbers. He never married and seldom left Co. Donegal. Towards the end of his life he spent some time in Donegal town hospital and later with relatives, but returned again to travelling. He died on 24 January 1980, in Rock Home, Ballyshannon. His funeral mass was broadcast live on Raidio na Gaeltachta. He was buried in the family grave in Fintown, Co. Donegal.
Some recordings of Doherty's playing are in the archives of the BBC (Belfast and London), RTÉ, the Irish Traditional Music Archive, and the Department of Irish Folklore, University College Dublin (UCD); the latter also holds some photographs of him. Many of his tunes are notated and examples of his folklore are transcribed in Feldman & O'Doherty's Northern fiddler, cited below, which also contains several photos of him c.1979 and two sketches by Eamonn O'Doherty. His playing had a great influence on his contemporaries in south Donegal, and still had repercussions some twenty years after his death.
More information on this entry is available at the National Database of Irish-language biographies (Ainm.ie).