The Battle of Knocknanuss, 1647
Supplied and reinforced from England, Lord Inchiquin mounted a major offensive against the Confederates in Munster during the spring and summer of 1647. Leading an army of 4,500 troops, he stormed and captured Dungarvin, Cappoquin and other garrisons, gaining a terrible reputation amongst the Irish as Murchadh na d'Tóiteán, "Murrough the Burner", as his troops destroyed crops and burned farms in eastern Munster to deny supplies to the Confederate armies.
The Confederate Supreme Council ordered Viscount Taaffe, commander of the Munster army, to retaliate with raids into County Cork to destroy farmlands in the vicinity of Inchiquin's garrisons. In September 1647, Inchiquin's forces stormed the Rock of Cashel in County Tipperary, where they burned down the defences, massacred soldiers, civilians and priests and desecrated St Patrick's Cathedral. Inchiquin then raided Callan, a town only ten miles from Kilkenny itself. Fearing that he might join forces with Colonel Jones' Parliamentarians for a joint attack on Kilkenny, the Supreme Council ordered Taaffe to bring Inchiquin's army to battle.
The three thousand men of the Confederate Munster army were reinforced with three regiments from Connacht and a contingent of fifteen hundred Scottish Redshanks under the command of Alasdair MacColla to bring Taaffe's strength up to around six thousand foot and twelve hundred horse. The Confederate army marched into County Cork and met Inchiquin's forces at Knocknanuss near Mallow, eighteen miles north of Cork, on 13 November 1647.
Viscount Taaffe was not an experienced general. His appointment to command of the Munster army was a political manoeuvre intended to undermine the influence of Archbishop Rinuccini on the Supreme Council. Although Taaffe had a slight superiority in numbers over Inchiquin and also gained the tactical advantage of higher ground, the battle of Knocknanuss was a disaster for the Confederates. Taaffe's Munster and Connacht regiments were deployed in separate formations with MacColla's Redshanks on the right wing. The crest of a hill interposed between the two wings so that they could not see one another and all cohesion was broken.
The battle began with MacColla leading a downhill charge that broke through the infantry on Inchiquin's left flank and overran his artillery lines. The Redshanks then ran off to plunder the baggage train. On the opposite flank, however, Inchiquin's cavalry routed the Confederate horse. The Munster regiments in the centre fired a single volley then broke and fled at the first enemy charge. Viscount Taaffe tried desperately to rally his troops, but the battle quickly turned into an ignominious rout. The Confederates were pursued for several miles, suffering heavy casualties and the loss of all their equipment. Although Taaffe escaped, Alasdair MacColla was taken prisoner and shot immediately after the battle. The surviving Redshanks were massacred.
The Confederate defeat at Knocknanuss left Lord Inchiquin in control of most of Munster. Only Limerick, Waterford and Clonmel remained in Confederate hands. However, neither Inchiquin in Munster nor Colonel Jones in Leinster could continue the onslaught against the Confederates because the Second Civil War had broken out in England, diverting Parliament's resources of men and supplies.
S.R. Gardiner, History of the Great Civil War vol.iv, (London 1894)
Pádraig Lenihan, Confederate Catholics at War 1641-49, (Cork 2001)
James Scott Wheeler, Cromwell in Ireland, (New York 1999)