McFadden is born to Roland Victor MCFadden and his wife Maud Steele. A short time after his birth the family relocates to Belfast. He is educated at Knock Grammar School, Regent House School in Newtownards, and later graduates in Law from Queen’s University Belfast in 1944. He becomes a prominent lawyer and an influential figure in the Belfast literary scene.
McFadden’s first poem is published before he is thirteen. His earliest influences are from magazines and journals that his father brings home, and by Francis Turner Palgrave‘s Golden Treasury. He first comes to prominence as a promoter of Ulster literature in the 1940s when he edits two anthologies of poetry, Ulster Voices and Irish Voices in 1943. In 1948, he co-founds with Barbara Edwards (née Hunter) the Northern Irish poetry magazine Rann and, then, co-edits it with her during its whole run, until 1953. Like its predecessor Lagan, it is unapologetically regionalist.
McFadden is the author of nine volumes of poetry, from Swords and Ploughshares (1943) to the posthumously published Last Poems (2002). Among his poems are “Saint Francis and the Birds” and “Independence”. His book, The Garryowen, is published by Chatto & Windus in the Phoenix Living Poets series. Most recently, his poem “Post-War” has been anthologised in Armistice: A Laureate’s Choice of Poems of War and Peace (Faber Poetry) (2018). There is a long gap between 1947 and 1971 when he publishes no collections of his work, however he continues to write and publishes in periodicals and newspapers such as The Irish Times where in that time he has sixty poems printed. His voice is well known on local BBC Radio through the Poetry Notebooks series and he also has several verse-plays broadcast.
In 1952 McFadden marries Margaret Ferguson. Together they produce three sons and two daughters. He lives for a number of years in Lisburn, County Antrim. Inspired by Herbert Read and Alex Comfort, he describes himself as a pacifist and an anarchist in 1999. McFadden dies at his Belfast home on September 15, 1999.
The Roy McFadden Papers, comprising the poet’s personal manuscripts and papers, are lodged at Queen’s University Belfast. The Roy McFadden Library at Trinity College Dublin comprises books and journals on Irish and world literature from his collection. A comprehensive collection of his published work is held at the National Poetry Library, Southbank Centre, London.