Colonel James Grove White: Knocknanuss

Sheet 23, 6 inch O.S. Sheet 175, 1 inch O.S.

Barony of Duhallow. Parish of Subulter.

The battlefield of Knocknanuss lies about four miles (by road) east of Kanturk. Knocknanuss is the Irish for "the hill of the fawns" (Cnoc-na—nos). (Joyce).


Mr. James Buckley contributed to the Cork Hist. and Arch. Journal for 1899 a copy of a Tract in the Brit. Mus., Cat E: 418, “set downe by an Officer of the Parliament’s Army present and acting at the fight.” Mr. Buckley also added an interesting Introduction. With his permission I have copied the following from the article;-


Six years had now elapsed since the outbreak of the civil war in Ireland, but to follow the course of events during that stirring period would be outside the scope of this introduction. A few words in explanation of our position are, however, necessary. The underhand treaty concluded between Ormond, on behalf of the King, and the Catholic Confederates, and proclaimed in August, 1646, opened a new chapter in this great struggle. It was brought about by the Ormondists in the Confederation, and was displeasing and unsatisfactory to all except those who were prime movers in it. to Rinuccini, the Papal Nuncio, as there was no security given for the exercise of religion, and to the ancient Irish, as their interests were left totally unprovided for. Under its terms the Confederate Army was, moreover, to become subservient to Ormond; so that in reality there was nothing more than a bartering away of rights and the means to enfore them, without obtaining in return an adequate compensation for all parties whose interests were involved. When the terms of the treaty were made known to the Nuncio, who had hitherto worked conjointly with the Confederates - their aims and objects being generally understood to be somewhat in common - he became indignant at his betrayal, and issued a decree enjoining all civil and military officers to withdraw allegiance from the late Supreme Council. In this course he was ardently supported by Limerick, Waterford, Clonmel, &c., and he succeeded in establishing a “Grand Council” in the place of the old Council, which was declared to be dissolved on account of its breach of trust. Aided by Owen Roe O’Neill, he vigorously renewed his political mission, but Kilkenny was a most inconvenient centre for his council, as the representatives from Ulster, Connaught, and a part of Munster were unable to attend with regularity. The Ormondists, in spite of the unfavourable constitution of the Council, availed themselves of the absence of the other members, and came again into power, and by their very dextrous management completely undid the Nuncio’s late revolution. The spirit of intrigue that prevailed so strongly in the old assembly soon pervaded the new. Preferment to the more important positions in the army was principally for party purposes, while merit was completely disregarded. Preston and Taaffe were appointed to command the Leinster and Munster armies, respectively. Neither of them performed such military services in the past as could warrant such distinction being conferred upon him; while O’Neill, the defender of Arras and the hero of Benburb, was ordered off to employ his arms in Connaught, lest his presence should interfere with the designs of the new council, which had now grown quite Ormondian.

With the old conflicting interests revived at the time when the most perfect unity was essential, the Confederates presented disunited forces to those by which they were soon to be confronted and eventually overwhelmed. Ormond evacuated Dublin towards the end of July, 1647, and the Parliament became possessed of that important centre, and on the 6th August made their presence felt by completely wiping out the formidable army of the Confederates in Leinster at the battle of Dungan’s Hill. Clonmel and Kilkenny were exposed on the north to the attacks of Jones, the Parliamentary general. O’Neill was, therefore, advised of the destruction of the Leinster army, and recalled from his campaign in Connaught. “It is impossible to describe the glee of O’Neill on receiving this news,” observes Rinuccini (“The Embassy in Ireland of Monsignor G.B. Rinuccini”); "he made instantly a descent into Leinster, amid the acclamations of the frightened inhabitants, placed himself not far from Trim, and there, never moving for four months, he hindered every attempt of the enemy to advance. This mode of acting was believed to be, by those who understood warfare, the saving of the kingdom under the circumstances, because the English, victorious and daring, would have advanced in security to Kilkenny, if this Fabius, by taking up his position amongst the bogs and dykes, had not demonstrated how often patient endurance triumphs over the sword." O’Neill’s movement furthermore left the Confederate army in Munster to hold Inchiquin in check, if Taaffe, its general, was so disposed.

Inchiquin had for months previously laid the counties Clare, Limerick, and latterly Tipperary, under contribution without receiving any opposition from Taaffe. This passiveness could not continue. "The clamour," says Carte in his "life of Ormond," "which the slaughter of near twenty priests in the Cathedral of Cashel raised among the Irish, and the Nuncio’s jealousies, forced this General (Taaffe) to assemble his army at a time when the season of the year seemed to forbid any further action. Inchiquin, drawing his forces out of their garrisons to oppose him, both armies came to an engagement on November 13, at a place called Knocknoness".

The Confederate army would appear to have assembled near Kanturk with a view to commence an attack on Inchiquin, but this intrepid General had private information of Taaffe’s designs, and was accordingly prepared to confront him in his own quarters. Inchiquin marched from Mallow on the morning of the 12th November, holding his course rather northward, and passed along through the townland of Ballyheen and reached Knocknanuss from the north. The Confederate army marched from Kanturk on the same morning, and took up its position on the north and west sides of the hill. The angle of the hill, which is the most precipitous part of it, was left unguarded by the Confederates, as it present a natural barrier to the advance of the enemy.

Knocknanuss is situated between Mallow and Kanturk, about three miles to the east of the latter town. The hill from which the townland partly derives its name, is a very curious one. It rises very abruptly on the north-west to a great height, and very gradually declines towards the ancient church of Subulter on the other side.

The following tract describes the battle in an apparently excellent manner, at least as far as the action of the Parliamentary army is concerned.


(Brit. Mus. Cat. E. 418.)

On 12th November, 1647, the Parliamentary army, under command of Lord Inchiquin, marched from Mallow to Gariduff, and found the Irish under Lord Taaffe encamped in a good position at Knocknanuss, two miles distant. Next day the Lord President, wishing to draw the Irish from their position, offered to advance, if Taaffe would do likewise. This offer was naturally declined, not alone on tactical grounds, but also on account of an old prophecy, which Lord Taaffe applied to himself, for the hill whereon he stood was called Knocknanus, and his ancestors had the lands of MacDonagh given them by the Kings of England.

MacDonogh future age shall see,

A man of thy prosperity,

By whom the English Lord shall fall;

Blood shall ascend to the legges small,

the place wee Knocknones doe call.

The English wore new broom in their hats as a distinguishing mark, while the Irish had a straw rope around theirs. Taaffe estimated his force at 9,000 foot and 1,000 horse, but by a list found afterwards in the pocket of Sir Alexander MacDonnell, the Irish Lieut.-general, their army only mustered 7,464 foot, 1076 horse, besides officers.

The Parliamentary forces were 4,000 foot and 1,200 horse. “'I‘he enimie ranging their battell in a plain front all along the hill, that so they might engage all their force together; their foot were drawn into nine divisions, of which the greater part by much was pike, wing'd with three bodies of horse on each side, besides reserves. Our foot, whose number was by half the lesse, were marchalled into three divisions, whereof two parts of three were muskets, the right and left wing of horse were made of thirteen bodies of horse, seven on the right wing and six on the left (with their reserves). Both armies thus drawn up".

Lord Inchiquin decided to try and entice the Irish from their strong position; with this object in view, he made a feint on their right flank, which caused Lord Taaffe to reinforce that part. The Lord President also directed the guns to play on the right wing. The right wing of the English, which had moved a little to the left, now resumed their original position, and made an attempt to tum the Irish left. To prevent this the Irish advanced with their horse in front of their infantry. The English met this movement with a hot fire. The advancing horse were shattered, and in their hurried retreat routed their own foot. The whole being pursued by the English cavalry.

On the English left wing Lord Inchiquin had placed his foot under cover of some ditches and enclosures. The Irish right wing under Sir Alexander MacDonnell (Colkitto or Alasdrum More, the ancestor of the MacDonnells of the Glens of Antrim) advanced with horse and foot. The Irish horse was charged by that of the English, driven back and pursued. The Parliamentary infantry, seeing the enemy’s horse defeated, left their cover and advanced, but were in their turn routed by the Redshanks (Highlanders) under MacDonnell, who captured two guns and plundered the English wagons. The English lost 50 soldiers and several officers.

The Lord President was at this time with his successful right wing. Looking towards his left, he saw “the rufull spectable of his men’s slaughter and the rebels overturning all before them, even to our wagons". He immediately despatched some regiments of foot and a troop or two of horse from the reserve, who drove back the Highlanders with heavy loss, Sir Alexander MacDonnell anfd his Lieut.- Colonel being amongst the slaim. The Irish were now in full retreat, and were followed up until nightfall by horse and foot. The pursuit was carried out the following day. The Irish lost 4,000 to 5,000 men, 6,000 arms, 38 infantry colours, and some “cornets of horse", also all their transport and ammunition, event to Lord Taaffe’s tent, bed and cabinet of papers.

The full Parliamentary loss is not stated, but their left wing suffered heavily. Many traces of the battle still exist. At the S.S.W. of the hill are the remains of entrenchments. They are crescent shaped, with the ends pointwestwards, and measure about 200 yards in length. They were probably nine feet wide and four or five deep. These are partially levelled many years ago, when a great quantity of skulls, coins, spurs, bullets, etc., were discovered. This part is known as “the hollow glen of battle". Another field north, “the Cavalry Field". Inchiquin is said to have encamped after the battle about 1/4 mile S.E. of the village of Kilbrin, at a place called the “camp field". Here follows an account of the career of MacDonnell and his immediate progenitors.

There seems to be some uncertainty as to the manner in which MacDonnell met his death. One version is that he was shot in the head by Major Purdon, while in the custody of a cornet. Rinuccini states he was intercepted by a party of 14 horse, and after killing four of them, he was stabbed by a soldier and fell dead. According to local tradition, he was captured by five horsemen and led off a prisoner. On crossing a little stream at a place now known as “the Chieftain’s Ford”, he allowed his horse to drink; leaning forward in his saddle, he exposed an opening in his armour; one of the guard, taking advantage of this, drove his sword through Alasdrum’s back and killed him. Thus perished by the bloody hand of an assassin one of the greatest and bravest warriors of his time.

An account is here given of the descendants of the assassin.

Alastrom’s body was buried at the S.W. corner of a kitchen garden then belonging to Purcell of Rathmaher; a large ash tree grows over the place of burial (see photo of the Chieftain’s Tree). After three days the body was removed to Clonmeen churchyard.

MacDonnell’s sword, which was a very heavy one, had a ball of 10lbs weight which ran along the back from the hilt to the point in an indented groove, so that when he raised his hand the ball glided to the hilt; when he made a stroke it rushed to the point, causing the weapon to strike with irrestable force. It was preserved for a long time by the Egmont family at Lohort Castle, but was removed to Dublin Castle or Phoenix Park Depot about 1850, when arms were collected throughout the country.

He is locally remembered in connection with a favourite tune called "Alastromp’s March" (given on page 116 Crofton Croker’s Researches in the South of Ireland). Two versions of the March are also given in Bunting’s Collection of Irish Music (1840), and in the Dublin Magazine for 1843.

The Egmont MSS i. xlix., give the English loss at Knocknanuss as eighty killed and many wounded.

Dr. Geo. Bolster, R.N., adds: - Mr. James O’Connell, Mr. Timothy Cronin, and Mrs. Mackesy occupy farms in Knocknanuss. They are tenants of Sir Eustace W. Becher, Bart. (1914).


Colonel James Grove White

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