Star of the County Down describes a young man’s love for a beautiful girl. Whatever we think of his methods we can’t question his devotion. As soon as he sees her he vows that he will make her his bride.
He won’t yoke his horse or turn his plough; he won’t even smoke his pipe until he makes the Star of the County Down his bride and has her sitting by his fireside.
We never find out whether he wins the girl and makes her his bride. Perhaps he does, but perhaps, like many lovesick young men, he spends a long time planning his moves and never actually carries them out. We are left to make up our own minds.
The melody is an old Irish ballad dating back hundreds of years. It was used for several songs, the best known perhaps being My Love Nell, before it became associated with the Star of the County Down.
The lyrics were written by Cathal Mac Garvey (1866 – 1927) who lived in Donegal. The first printed reference to the song is in Hughes’ Irish Country Songs.
The Star of the County Down has been recorded by numerous Irish performers including John McCormack, The Dubliners and The Irish Rovers. Van Morrison recorded a version with The Chieftains and it was also covered by the London-Irish band The Pogues.
The Serbian band The Orthodox Celts also had tremendous success with their recording of the song.
It was also well known as the ballad Dives and Lazarus, which was collected by the American scholar and folklorist, Francis James Child. He collected numerous ballads and folk songs which became known as the Child Ballads.
The ballads were published in five volumes between 1882 and 1898. Dives and Lazarus is listed as Child ballad 56. It was used by the English composer Vaughan Williams in his Five Variants of Dives and Lazarus.