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O'Keeffe Clan

Gathering and Rally

9, 10 and 11 Sept 2016

guided tours, lectures

historical and genealogical exhibitions

cultural and musical events,

buffet banquet Saturday evening
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The Battle of Knockbrack 26th July 1651

The late summer of that year was exceptionally wet and stormy. We know this from an account left to us written by Lord Brohill dealing with events before and after the Battle.

Limerick was besieged by Ireton, when word was brought to him that Lord Muskerry was raising an army to come to its relief. Immediately, he dispatched Lord Brohill with direct orders to make it his priority to intercept and destroy this army, before it reached Limerick. Lord Muskerry, on his part , had appointed Lieutenant Colonel MacElligott, to assemble his army at Dromagh Castle.

We can imagine the activity here with men camped all round the place training with their officers etc. Lord Muskerry's plan was to march to Castle Ishion, near Dromina, and from there to Gallbally to link up with Fitzpatrick. Thus with their assembled forces to march in strength to raise the Siege of Limerick. Now, we must turn to Lord Brohill for his account of the next events. Letters having been intercepted from the Governor, Bishop and Mayor of Limerick, to the effect that they were in very bad condition and that they would, if not suddenly relieved, have to make conditions, in differences to the desire of the community of the town.

“I at once drew all the forces out of this country together, having heard that Lord Muskerry had marched out of the County of Kerry to Dromagh, and was drawing all the men he could to a rendezvous with the Leinster forces at Galbally, under Fitzpatrick, an vast mountainous country, not above 15 miles from Limerick.

I at once advanced to Mallow, and being informed that Muskerry's army had left Dromagh that day, for Castleshion. I immediately advanced to intercept them, and, about midnight, we upon their house Guards beating them up. Their camp took so sudden a fright, they all disappeared into the night, over terrain that the very “tuiges” themselves could hardly march on, so we did not follow. It being the most tempestuous night I was ever in. Next day our two armies lay about 4 miles apart.

Now Muskerry retreated westward, he did not want an engagement at this time “ . ( Brohill tells us.) “ He followed as far as Drishane, the place where in the beginning of last winter, he defeated a considerable body of ours, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Elsing. This made us think, he had rather the desire to destroy our quarters than to take Limerick.

We followed them on the 25th, but could not follow further for want of bread and, lest they give us the slip in the night, and get to Limerick or effect a junction with their friends, we therefore crossed the Blackwater, and having seen no enemy returned towards Mallow. We intended, after breading our soldiers, to occupy Courtown on the line between Muskerry's army and Galbally and not one days march from Limerick. On the way there our rear sent me word that four division of horses were pursuing us.

I then drew up my men on a fair moor over which I had first passed. Going to some high ground, I saw their whole army, coming to us and on to a plain. “ ( This high ground he speak of, must be near old Dromtarriffe Church. The plain he speaks of, must be somewhere near Tony Barrett's farm or thereabouts on the southern side of the Blackwater. ) “I knew from once their foot came into the plain, they would give us a fair field and to speak truth, they could not avoided it. ( 26th)

In the morning early, I crossed the river near Clonmeen where I met ninety Irish under protection. I asked what they were assembled for, they answered, they came out of curiosity to see the battle. Having asked them how they knew there was to be a battle, they answered, they had an old prophesy that there was one to be fought on that ground one time or other, and they know none more likely than the present. Upon which, I asked them , on which side the victory was to fall, they shook their heads and they said the English are to get the day.

I started to march westward. I gave Major Wallis the command of our left wing. Major Coppage, commanded our foot, and I, our right wing, our word was prosperity, theirs was St James. Our signal – white in hats , theirs – Green fern. I then encouraged all our men but they required no encouragement, I never saw men more ready to fight.

The Irish drew up on my rear, but, I marched on with eleven squadron of horse and fifteen of foot, in order to draw them out of the wood, they had taken shelter in, and to bring them out to plain. The Bludge-Barrel was fired on either side, but the enemy did not answer our shout, upon which a soldier cried out “They are beaten already”. “Yes” says I “ and shall be worse beaten presently” The left wing under Wallis and eighty musketeers, with pistol bullets in their pieces, fired all at once in two ranks, and I did the like on the right wing. I had given orders that each wing of horse, should consist of five squadrons, three to charge and two to second, that the middle troop, being in a body, should pursue while the other two did execution. The foot also I ordered to consist of five battalion's, three to charge and two to reserve.

As the enemy out-flanked us both ways, I drew to the right wing, upon which the enemy advanced that way with one thousand musketeers and with their horse, fought horse, Head to horse, head hacking with their swords, but at length I routed their left wing.

The enemy appearing with one hundred and forty horse in my rear, I faced about and charged through them and charging a second time bid my men cry out “They run, they run” whereas, their first rank looked back to see if their rear did run, and they seeing the faces of the front rank whom they really thought began to fly from our people, began to run in earnest and so they all fled.

The left wing, not having charged, the two reserves on the right wing were designed to help them, but they were interrupted by a stand of 1,000 pike men who, for a considerable time, stood firmly and fought stoutly, but I ordered the angles to be attacked. They were put in disorder and broke their strength in preserving their order and disposition upon which most of them were cut to pieces.

The right wing of the Irish attacked our left and were beaten, so the foot fled, and were pursued all night. Not a horse officer of the Irish, except one, but he or his horse were wounded. All the first rank in my squadron, being thirty three, were either killed or wounded.

We resolved not to give or take quarter, Some, however, had quarter after the battle. Among the baggage we found a packful of charms, relics etc. besides an infinite quantity taken from the dead, with a peculiar one on paper said to be the exact measure of our Lady's foot, and written on it “whoever wears this and repeat certain prayers shall be free from gunshot, sword and pike respectively” as each so desired.

Like the battle of Nasby from a fair day, it rained hard during the fight with thunder and lightening and afterwards cleared up again. My boldest horse, being twice wounded, become so fearful that he was turned to the Coach.

Lieutenant Colonel MacGillicuddy, who headed Lord Muskerry's regiment, a man more popular than the Lord, was taken prisoner, also Major Gilligagh, an old Spanish soldier. In this battle MacDonagh, Lord of Duhallow, was slain as he charged at the head of a squadron of horse.

The battle was at one time so favourable to the Irish, that Captain Banister on the left wing of the English, rode off to Cork with the news of a victory gained by them. On my return to Limerick Ireton fired three volleys for joy.”

The day after the battle one of Brohill's officers known as “Butcher Maxwell” burnt the old church in Dromtarriffe. Within, we are told, 400 persons perished. He also did likewise to Kilcorney Church, which then stood at Reardons or the old Chapel cross. The number killed, during and after the battle, were very great, as Brohill was afterwards known as the “Butcher of Knockbrack” Limerick surrendered on October 23rd, and the great Bishop McMahon was excuted.

Incidentally this was the last conventional battle of that great civil war, began by Rory O' Moore and Sir Phelim O'Neill in 1641 and continued until 1652.


Erected on 6th May 2006
by Dromtariffe Parish
with support of IRD Duhallow
under the LEADER Programme
knockbrack