The Battle of Knockdoe, 1504

The Battle of Knockdoe, [Cnoc Tua meaning the "The Hill of Axes"] was fought in 1504 and although it had no real political significance it was one of the bloodiest conflicts in Irish history.

It was the result of a private quarrel between the King's Deputy, Gearóid Mór - the Great Earl of Kildare - and Ulick Burke, an aggressive and turbulent chief of Galway. Burke, or de Burgo - the family name - was chief of Clanrickard in South Galway.

He sought to establish his authority over all of Connaught and attacked and destroyed the castles of O'Kelly - Lord of Hymany - situated in Monivea, Garbally and Castleblakeney. The Burkes of Mayo, another branch of the De Burgo family, joined forces with the Earl of Kildare to oust the usurper.

Clanrickard was living in open adultery with O'Kelly's wife and it is reported that this was the cause of the 'skirmish'. The Earl had the support of allied armies from leading families of Ulster, Leinster and Connaught, while Burke had the support of armies from Munster.

On the battlefield and fighting for both sides were Scottish mercenary warriors known as "The Gallowglass". Their principal offensive weapon was the axe which accounted for the large number of casualties.

It is said that this was the first battle in Irish history where gunpowder was used. There were huge casualties on both sides and Ulick Burke was defeated after a day's vicious fighting. In all over 4,000 men were killed in the one-day battle. Following his defeat, Burke (Clanrickard) and his clan faded into obscurity for some decades and the Mayo Burkes reaped the spoils. Around the summit of Knockdoe are many cairns (burial mounds) where the slaughtered are said to be buried.