The Battle of Knockdoe in 1504 is one of the earliest recorded uses of firearms in Ireland. We can’t say that firearms made a difference to the outcome or that they were central to military strategy. Indeed we must question if anyone knew exactly how to use them. According to the Book of Howth, one soldier of the Clanrickarde Burkes was beaten to death with a handgun!
The Battle was fought between the Hiberno-Norman “De Burgh” (Burkes) and their allies from the Dalcassian Sept (Kennedy’s, O’Briens, McNamaras) on one side against the Anglo-Norman Fitzgeralds on the other. Although calling the Fitzgeralds “Anglo” is a bit of a misnomer. The Geraldines were Marcher Lords from Wales, not English.
Gerald, Earl of Kildare, was the deputy of the King of England, who also styled himself “Lord of Ireland” since the Norman invasion of the late 12th century. As such Kildare carried a semblance of authority and the battle was considered to be a “policing” action to keep the King’s peace.
The Burkes were throwing their weight around and the Fitzgeralds had to sort them out to keep them in line.
The Fitzgeralds claimed the field after what was said to be a particularly bloody encounter. The battle was dominated by Gallowglass, the heavy infantry of Medieval Ireland. Many were Scottish mercenaries, heavily armoured. Their primary weapon was the Claidh Mór, now called the Claymore, meaning “big sword”. As seen in the above illustration it is a two-handed broadsword of considerable length.
The poem below is held in folklore to have come from the pocket of a dead soldier.
Battle of Knockdoe (Anonymous)
Loud blares the trumpet, the field is set.
Loud blares the trumpet, the foe men are met.
Steep slopes the hill, at Knockdoe in the West.
There stood in Battle, the South at its best.
Hi Manny O’Kelly, with the Burkes is at War,
and Clanrickard has gathered his friends from afar.
Kildare he advances like the fox that doth stalk,
O’Kelly sweeps down with the speed of a hawk.
Loud sounds the trumpet, the sunset is fair.
Hi Manny triumphant. The Earl of Kildare.