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Saturday, 20 August 2016

19‭ ‬August‭ ‬1504:‭ ‬The battle of Knockdoe/Cnoc Tuagh‭ (‬the Hill of Axes‭) ‬was fought on this day.‭ ‬This battle was the greatest clash of arms seen in Ireland in hundreds of years.‭ ‬It took place around Knockdoe,‭ ‬a hillock about eight miles north east of Galway city.‭ ‬The combatants were the forces under Garret Fitzgerald,‭ ‬the Great Earl of Kildare and his rival Ulick‭ ‬Burke of Clanrickard.‭

Despite a somewhat uncertain relationship the Great Earl was King Henry VII’s man in Ireland.‭ ‬He was charged with ensuring that no other than himself should dictate the state of the King's affairs in this Country.‭ ‬Something of a poacher turned gamekeeper the Great Earl would brook no rivals.‭ ‬Ulick‭ ‬Burke had thrown down the gauntlet however by seizing three castles belonging to the O’Kellys of south Galway and also taking under his control the Royal city of Galway.‭ ‬Ironically Ulick was also Garret’s son in law‭! ‬While not a certainty he seems to have fallen out with his wife Eustacia and she had returned to be under her fathers roof.‭ ‬The O’Kellys also appealed to him for the restitution of their fortresses.‭

He decided to lead an Army to the West and settle the issue through battle.‭ ‬He led a formidable force with him,‭ ‬perhaps as many as‭ ‬6,000‭ ‬warriors and many of them the iron clad Gallowglass who dominated the battlefields of Ireland in the latter Middle Ages.‭ ‬To oppose him Ulick gathered a similar type of force but he could not match the Great Earls resources or network of connections.‭ ‬He had maybe about‭ ‬4,000‭ ‬men in the field on the day of battle.‭ ‬The Great Earl mustered forces from Leinster and Ulster with some Connacht allies too.‭ ‬Burkes‭’ ‬own force was comprised of his retinue from south Galway,‭ ‬and his allies from northwest Munster.‭ ‬To the Gaels it seemed that the great wars between the provincial kings of old in the days before the English arrived had returned.‭ ‬But to Garret it was more like a version of a suppression of a rebellion against Royal authority that the King of England might engage upon across the water.‭ ‬In truth there was a mixture of both these analogies in what happened.

In the event Garret Fitzgerald beat his opponent decisively and retook Galway from Ulick Burke.‭ ‬The battle though was bloody and hard fought‭ – ‘‬a dour struggle‭’‬.‭ ‬Essentially an infantry battle both sides hacked and slashed at each other to bring the other down.‭ ‬It is also the first battle to record the use of a gun‭ ‬-‭ ‬a Palesman beat out his opponent’s brains with the butt of his piece‭! ‬It was really a medieval battle of the old style and the last great one of its kind.‭ ‬Both sides clashed early in the morning and it was late in the day before the remnants of Burkes‭’ ‬much depleted host broke and ran.‭ ‬The Geraldine force camped on the battlefield that night to collect booty and bring in the stragglers.‭ ‬The Great Earl proceeded the next day to enter the City of Galway in Triumph and received the keys of the metropolis from the grateful Mayor.

A fierce battle was fought between them,‭ ‬such as had not been known of in latter times.‭ ‬Far away from the combating troops were heard the violent onset of the martial chiefs,‭ ‬the vehement efforts of the champions,‭ ‬the charge of the royal heroes,‭ ‬the noise of the lords,‭ ‬the clamour of the troops when endangered,‭ ‬the shouts and exultations of the youths,‭ ‬the sound made by the falling of the brave men,‭ ‬and the triumphing of the nobles over the plebeians.‭ ‬The battle was at length gained against Mac William,‭ ‬O'Brien,‭ ‬and the chiefs of Leath-Mhogha‭; ‬and a great slaughter was made of them‭; ‬and among the slain was Murrough Mac-I-Brien-Ara,‭ ‬together with many others of the nobles.‭ ‬And of the nine battalions which were in solid battle array,‭ ‬there survived only one broken battalion.‭ ‬A countless number of the Lord Justice's forces were also slain,‭ ‬though they routed the others before them.‭ ‬It would be impossible to enumerate or specify all the slain,‭ ‬both horse and foot,‭ ‬in that battle,‭ ‬for the plain on which they were was impassable,‭ ‬from the vast and prodigious numbers of mangled bodies stretched in gory litters‭; ‬of broken spears,‭ ‬cloven shields,‭ ‬shattered battle-swords,‭ ‬mangled and disfigured bodies stretched dead,‭ ‬and beardless youths lying hideous,‭ ‬after expiring.
Annals of the Four Masters