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Updated 05/09/2013


Star of the County Down

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 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 song is notable for its 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. 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 arrangement is by Gordon K. Spiers.  Gordon K. Speirs (19?? - 1994) grew up in a London orphanage; his parents were killed in WWII.  He was Pipe Major of The Blue Bonnets (City of London) Pipe Band in the 1960s and early 1970s. He later moved to Milwaukee and joined The Billy Mitchell Scottish and became its primary instructor and PM. He is reputed to have successfully played pipes and danced at the same time.  Gordon moved to Kansas City in 1977 but returned to Milwaukee around 1980 where he formed the Milwaukee & District Scottish Pipe Band in 1982 with his wife Catriona Hill (daughter of Bob Hill, PM Scots Guards) along with some members of The Billy Mitchell Scottish. Milwaukee & District competed in Grade IV, and in 1984, Grade III; which was the peak of this band's short life. Around 1985 Gordon and his wife divorced, and Gordon moved to the Denver area and later married Shelley, a piper.  He died in 1994.

Lyrics by Cathal McGarvey

Near Banbridge town, in the County Down
One morning in July
Down a boreen green came a sweet colleen
And she smiled as she passed me by.
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 make sure I was really there.

From Bantry Bay up to Derry Quay
And from Galway to
Dublin town
No maid I've seen like the sweet colleen
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.
young Rosie McCann
from the banks of the Bann
She's the star of the County Down."


I've traveled 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 harvest fair I'll be surely there
And I'll dress in my Sunday clothes
And I'll try sheep's eyes, and deludering 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