November 29, 2011

The Best Version Ever of 'Star of the County Down'? You Be the Judge

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Question

What do you get when you take the most famous Irish traditional music group in the world, The Chieftains; add legendary Northern Irish singer/songwriter, Van Morrison ('Brown Eyed Girl,' 'Moondance,' 'Wild Night'); and task them with performing one of the most popular Celtic music tunes of all time, 'Star of the County Down'?

Click play to hear the answer:



There's something captivating about the arrangement... the whistles, the piano, the Northumbrian bagpipes and -- of course -- Van Morrison's distinctive voice. Unlike The Irish Rovers and The High Kings, who speed through their respective renditions of 'Star,' The Chieftains and Van Morrison let the song unfold organically, at a relatively slow (but steady) pace, like moss growing on an old stone wall in the Irish countryside.

A Little Bit of History

The melody of 'Star of the County Down' has English origins and dates back to at least the 1700s. It first appeared as 'Gilderoy' in Thomas D'Urfey's Pills to Purge the Melancholy III (1707), but became more 'Star'-like in the 1726 version of 'Gilderoy' that appeared in Musick for Allan Ramsay's Collection of Scots Songs by Alexander Stuart.

The 'Star'/'Gilderoy' melody has been used as a basis for numerous songs, including 'Dives and Lazarus,' 'Claudy Banks,' 'The Murder of Maria Martin,' and 'My Love Nell.' However, it was Cathal McGarvey (1866-1927) of Ramelton, County Donegal, who penned the 'Star of the County Down' lyrics that we know and love today.

Your Thoughts

So, what do you think of The Chieftains'/Van Morrison's rendition of 'Star'? Do you know of a better version? Leave a comment below!


Further Reading:
www.contemplator.com: Star of the County Down
Wolfgang David: Star of the County Down
'Star of the County Down' Chords & Lyrics

If you liked this post, you might also want to check out:
Can't Believe I Never Heard This Before Today: The Chieftains and Ziggy Marley Play 'Redemption Song'

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