"Star of the County Down" is an old Irish ballad set
near Banbridge in County Down, in Northern Ireland. The
tune is a pentatonic melody, 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 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
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.
Although this piece was originally written for
traditional folk instruments, I arranged it for Viola &
Celtic or Concert (Pedal) Harp.