Star of the County Down
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"Star of the County Down" is an old Irish ballad set near Banbridge in County Down, in Northern Ireland. The words are by Cathal McGarvey (1866–1927) from Ramelton, County Donegal. The tune is similar to that of several other works, including the almost identical English tune "Kingsfold", well known from several popular hymns, such as "Led By the Spirit". The folk tune was the basis for Ralph Vaughan Williams' Five Variants of Dives and Lazarus.
The melody was also used in an old Irish folk song called "My Love Nell". The lyrics of "My Love Nell" tell the story of a young man who courts a girl but loses her when she emigrates to America. The only real similarity with "Star of the County Down" is that Nell too comes from County Down. This may have inspired McGarvey to place the heroine of his new song in Down as well. McGarvey was from Donegal.
"The Star of the County Down" uses a tight rhyme scheme. Each stanza is a double quatrain, and the first and third lines of each quatrain have an internal rhyme on the second and fourth feet: [aa]b[cc]b. The refrain is a single quatrain with the same rhyming pattern.
The song is sung from the point of view of a young man who chances to meet a charming lady by the name of Rose (or Rosie) McCann, referred to as the "star of the County Down". From a brief encounter the writer's infatuation grows until, by the end of the ballad, he imagines wedding the girl.
Near Banbridge town, in the County Down
One morning last July
Down a bóithrín green came a sweet cailín
And she smiled as she passed me by.
Oh she looked so sweet from her two bare feet
To the sheen of her nut brown hair
Such a coaxing elf, sure I shook myself
To be sure I was really there.
And from Bantry Bay up to Derry Quay
And from Galway to Dublin town
No maid I've seen like the brown cailín
That I met in the County Down.
As she onward sped I shook my head
And I gazed with a feeling rare
And I said, says I, to a passerby
"Who's the maid with the nut-brown hair?"
He smiled at me, and with pride says he,
"That's the gem of Ireland's crown.
She's young Rosie McCann from the banks of the Bann
She's the star of the County Down."
I've travelled a bit, but never was hit
Since my roving career began
But fair and square I surrendered there
To the charms of young Rose McCann.
I'd a heart to let and no tenant yet
Did I meet with in shawl or gown
But in she went and I asked no rent
From the star of the County Down.
At the crossroads fair I'll be surely there
And I'll dress in my Sunday clothes
And I'll try sheep's eyes, and deludhering lies
On the heart of the nut-brown rose.
No pipe I'll smoke, no horse I'll yoke
Though with rust my plow turns brown
Till a smiling bride by my own fireside
Sits the star of the County Down.
- Famously recorded by John McCormack (tenor) (1884–1945)
- The Pogues recorded a version of the song, which was released on the 2005 reissue of their 1989 album Peace and Love.
- Orthodox Celts recorded a version on their 1997 album The Celts Strike Again, as well as on their 1995 live album Muzičke paralele.
- Michael Card recorded a version on his 1998 album Starkindler.
- Loreena McKennitt recorded a version on her 2010 album The Wind That Shakes the Barley. She also used the melody of "The Star of the County Down" for the carol "The Seven Rejoices of Mary," released on her 2008 album A Midwinter Night's Dream.
- Luar na Lubre used the melody without lyrics for the first part of "Canteixere" included in their 1999 album "Cabo do mundo".
- Brontosauři, a Czech folk band, reworked the ballad to their own song Královna z Dundrum Bay (Queen of Dundrum Bay) about a strong relationship between a man and his horse.
- A popular adaptation (keeping the music, but changing the lyrics) is "The Fighting 69th", which is about the famed Irish Brigade of the American Civil War.
- A version played by The Chieftains featuring Van Morrison on vocals can be found in the DVD The Chieftains Live over Ireland – Water from the Well (2000).
- Ehud Banai has produced a Hebrew version entitled "HaKochav Shel Mahoz Gush Dan"
- Lyriel recorded a version on their 2012 album Leverage.
- The Irish Rovers recorded a version on their 1996 album The Irish Rovers' Gems that included a substantially different third verse.
- The High Kings recorded a version for their 2010 album Memory Lane
- The Von Trapp Children recorded an a cappella version for their album A Capella.
- A version is performed by Sean Dagher at the taverns in the video game Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag.
- Prydein (band) recorded a version on their first album, Unfinished Business (1999)
- Marc Gunn & Jamie Haeuser on their album How America Saved Irish Music (2014)
- Swingle Singers recorded a version on their album Around the World, Folk Songs (1991) Virgin Classics – aka (Around the World) Folk Music
- In S1.E5 of the The Wire, Jimmy Mcnulty sings the song while he is attempting to assemble the bunk bed he bought for his children.
- O'Lochlainn, Colm (1967). Songwriters of Ireland in the English Tongue. Dublin: Three Candles Press.
- Folksongs&Ballads popular in Ireland, Volume 3, Loesberg,pp 72
- Link to a free download of Slainte's version of the song (hosted by archive.org).
- A free sound recording of Droit's version
- "Star of the County Down" at MusicBrainz (information & list of recordings)