Star of the County Down

Rick brings this to our repertoire.   Written by Cathal McGarvey (born in Rathmullen, County Donegal in 1866) supposedly before 1890.  He was part of the Irish literary and Gaelic revival in Dublin, Ireland in about 1900, and was a poet, song writer, performer, and even a producer, having been involved in the first movie made in the new Irish Free State in 1926 (Irish Destiny). He died the following year.

The melody or tune used in this song is originally known as “Kingsford” – a hymn melody in the church in the late middle ages.  This passed into popular use as a folk dance called “The Peacock” and later still as “The Peacock’s Feathers”.  The tune, in varying meters, (2/4, 3/4, 4/4, 6/8) became so well known that it is the vehicle for many songs in antiquity (See The Parting Glass) such as the old English ballad “Dives and Lazarus” (by John Wallye and Mistress Toye in their ballad opera “Ryche Man and Poor Lazarus” in 1570), and several broadside ballads over the centuries such as “The Success of the Two English Travelers” (late 17th century) and further on to “Bold Captain Avery” (in the 18th century).  

Jos. Morneault


Cathal’s original lyrics.

Near Banbridge town in the County Down
One morning last July
Down a boreen green, came a sweet colleen
And she smiled as she passed me by
She looked so neat from her two bare feet
To the sheen of her nut brown hair
Sure the coaxing elf, I’d to shake myself
To make sure I was standing there

From Bantry Bay up to Derry quay
And from Galway to Dublin town
No maid I’ve seen like the brown colleen
That I met in the County Down

As she onward sped, sure I shook me head
And I gazed with a feeling rare
And I said, says I, to a passer-by
Who’s the maid with the nut brown hair ?
He smiled at me and with pride says he
That’s the gem of old Ireland’s crown
She’s Rosie Mc Cann from the banks of the Bann
She’s the star of the County Down


She’s a soft brown eye and a look so sly
And a smile like a rose in June
And you hung on each note from her lily-white throat
As she lilted an Irish tune
At the pattern dance, you were held in a trance
As she tripped through a reel or jig
When her eyes, she’d roll, she’d coax, upon my soul
A spud from a hungry pig


I travelled a bit but I never was hit
Since my roving career began
But fair and square, I surrendered there
To the charms of young Rosie McCann
With a heart to let and no tenant yet
Did I meet with a shawl or gown
But in she went and I asked no rent
From the star of the County Down


At the harvest fair, she’ll be surely there
So I’ll dress in my Sunday clothes
With my shoes shone bright and my hat cocked right
For a smile from the nut brown rose
No pipe I’ll smoke, no horse I’ll yoke
Though my plough with the rust turns brown
’til a smiling bride by my own fireside
Sits the star of the County Down



For comparison – The ballad “Dives and Lazarus”.