Star of the County Down
"Star of the County Down" is an 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 several other works, especially that of the English "Dives and Lazarus", also called "Kingsfold", well known from several popular hymns.
The melody was also used in an 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.
The song usually begins with the opening verse:
- Famously recorded by John McCormack (tenor) (1884–1945)
- The King's Singers recorded a version of this song on their 1985 album "Watching the White Wheat: Folk Songs of the British Isles".
- Van Morrison and The Chieftains featured the song as the opening track of the 1988 release Irish Heartbeat. (The Chieftains would later release a live version with Van Morrison on the DVD The Chieftains Live over Ireland – Water from the Well (2000).)
- Swingle Singers recorded a version on their album Around the World, Folk Songs (1991) Virgin Classics – aka (Around the World) Folk Music
- The Pogues recorded a version of the song, which was released on the 2005 reissue of their 1989 album Peace and Love.
- The Irish Rovers recorded a version on their 1996 album The Irish Rovers' Gems that included a substantially different third verse.
- 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.
- Luar na Lubre used the melody without lyrics for the first part of "Canteixere" included in their 1999 album "Cabo do mundo".
- Prydein (band) recorded a version on their first album, Unfinished Business (1999)
- London-Irish 'Psycho-Ceilídh' Punks Neck (band) recorded a driving, electric version on their seminal, highly rated 2004 album Sod 'em & Begorrah!
- 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.
- 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.
- Ehud Banai has produced a Hebrew version entitled "HaKochav Shel Mahoz Gush Dan" (The Star of Gush Dan County)
- The High Kings recorded a version for their 2010 album Memory Lane
- Lyriel recorded a version on their 2012 album Leverage.
- 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. A version also appears in other games of the series.
- Marc Gunn & Jamie Haeuser on their album How America Saved Irish Music (2014)
- 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.
- Runa recorded a version on their 2012 album Jealousy.
- 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)