Battle of Knocknaclashy

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Battle of Knocknaclashy
Part of the Irish Confederate Wars
Date July 1651
Location near Banteer, County Cork, southern Ireland
Result English Parliamentarian victory
Irish Catholic Confederate troops from Munster English Parliamentarian New Model Army troops
Commanders and leaders
Donagh MacCarthy, Viscount Muskerry Roger Boyle, 1st Earl of Orrery
c3000 c.2000
Casualties and losses
c.500 26 dead, 130 wounded

The battle of Knocknaclashy, took place in County Cork in southern Ireland in 1651. In it, an Irish Confederate force led by Donagh MacCarthy, Viscount Muskerry was defeated by an English Parliamentarian force under Roger Boyle, 1st Earl of Orrery. It was the final pitched battle of the Irish Confederate Wars and one of the last of the Wars of the Three Kingdoms.

The Campaign

Most of the province of Munster had fallen to the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland in 1649-50. Oliver Cromwell had led an assault by the New Model Army from the south-east of Ireland, while Roger Boyle had inspired a mutiny among the English Royalist garrison in Cork, causing them to defect to the Parliamentarians. This had outflanked the defences of Irish Confederates and English Royalists, causing them to retreat behind the river Shannon into Connacht, where the held the fortified cities of Limerick and Galway. Henry Ireton, went on to besiege Limerick. The only organised Irish forces remaining in south Munster were those of Donagh MacCarthy, Viscount Muskerry, who held out in the mountainous area of west Cork and county Kerry – which was his clan’s native territory. In July 1651, Muskerry set out from Ross Castle in Killarney to try to relieve the besieged defenders of Limerick. He rallied his men by spreading a prophecy that the Irish would win a great battle over the English – such predictions were commonly believed in Irish culture at that time . Muskerry marched in the direction of Mallow with 3000 infantry and some cavalry, hoping to link up with bands of Irish guerrillas or "tories" on the road north. However, Ireton had positioned Boyle in Cork to prevent such a move and Orrerry’s Parliamentarian force intercepted the Irish at Knocknaclashy, near the village of Banteer.

The battle

The Parliamentarians were outnumbered but were better trained and supplied than the Irish and had more cavalry, which was a big advantage in open country. The two sides exchanged a volley of musketry at close range and then closed hand to hand. The Irish cavalry were scattered in the first charge, leaving their infantry alone.

However, the infantrymen, mostly armed with pikes, bravely charged their adversaries. Orrerry’s men were almost outflanked by the Irish pikemen, but recovered the advantage by charging the flank of the Irish line. Orrerry reported that his horsemen broke into the Irish pike squares at the "angles" (corners) by riding up, firing their pistols, reloading and repeating the process until there was a large enough gap in the formation for the English cavalry to break in with their swords. In this way, Orrerry’s men turned the flank of the Irish line and put them to flight. Hundreds of Irish soldiers were ridden down by the Parliamentary cavalry in the subsequent pursuit.

Orrerry ordered the killing of all prisoners except "men of good quality" (i.e. of high social rank) who could be ransomed. He also related that his men found Catholic "charms" sown into the clothing of the Irish dead, which promised that the wearer would be invulnerable to weapons. The Parliamentarians recorded losses of only 26 dead and 130 wounded, although it is likely that many of the wounded would have also later perished from their injuries. The surviving Irish, including Muskerry, retreated in disorder to Ross Castle, where they surrendered in 1652.


  • Padraig Lenihan, Confederate Catholics at War, Cork 2001
  • James Scott Wheeler, Cromwell in Ireland, New York 1999.

See also