Bards Irish Fiddle Tunebook Supplement/Star of the County Down

"Star of the County Down" is an old Irish ballad set near Bainbrigde in county down, in northern Ireland. The words are by Cathal McGarvey, 1866–1927, from Ramelton, County Donegal .[1] The tune of the song, a pentatonic melody, 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.[2] The lyrics [3] of My Love Nell tell the story of 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.

One popular arrangement was recorded by Rick Summer Droit on his [4] CD released in 2000

One 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.

The melody is also used for the carol "The Seven Rejoices of Mary," sung by Loreena McKennitt on A Midwinter Night's Dream" and for the eponymous song on The Wind That Shakes the Barley (album).

A parody of the song was produced by "Trifolkal" called "The Starbucks of County Down".


Near Banbridge town, in the County Down
One morning in 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 sweet 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.



  1. O'Lochlainn, Colm (1967). Songwriters of Ireland in the English Tongue. Dublin: Three Candles Press. 
  2. Folksongs&Ballads popular in Ireland, Volume 3, Loesberg,pp72
  4. Laughing Like A Banshee

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