Battle of Affane

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Battle of Affane
Part of the Private war between Fitzgeralds and Butlers
Date February 1565
Location Affane, County Waterford, Ireland
Result Butler victory
Geraldines of Desmond and allies. Butlers of Ormonde and allies
Commanders and leaders
Gerald Fitzgerald, 15th Earl of Desmond Thomas Butler, 10th Earl of Ormonde
c.180 horse, 3-400 heavy infantry, hundreds more lightly armed infantry. ?
Casualties and losses
c.300 killed c. low

The Battle of Affane was fought in county Waterford, in south-eastern Ireland, in 1565, between the forces of the Fitzgerald Earl of Desmond and the Butler Earl of Ormond. The battle ended in the rout of the Desmond (or Geraldine) forces. It was one of the last private battles fought in Britain or Ireland.

Causes – a private war[edit]

The province of Munster had been dominated by the Old English Fitzgeralds of Desmond and the Butlers of Ormonde since the 13th century. The Fitzgerald territory was located in the south and south-west of Ireland, across modern counties – Cork, Kerry and Tipperary. The Ormonde territory was centred on the city of Kilkenny and concentrated in counties Kilkenny, Waterford and Tipperary. In the absence of any strong central government, the rival dynasties were locked in a cycle of violent competition, which resulted in constant raids as each side tried to consolidate and expand its territory at the expense of the other. In the 1560s, this feud exploded into all-out war.

In the preceding years the widowed Countess of Ormonde, mother of Sir Thomas Butler, 10th Earl of Ormonde, had married Gerald Fitzgerald, 15th Earl of Desmond, with a view to reconciliation between the two houses. In 1560 her intervention secured a peaceful outcome to a stand-off at Bohermore (known as, the battle that never was). However, her death in 1564 unleashed ill feeling, and raiding was immediately resumed on both sides.

As the dispute ebbed and flowed, Sir Maurice Fitzgerald[disambiguation needed] – a Desmond dependant resident in the borderland between the territories – declared his intention to accept the protection of his first cousin, Ormonde. To coerce his dependant, Desmond mustered the Geraldine forces in January 1565, marching east across Munster and into the territory of the Decies in Waterford. Ormonde mobilised his men to intercept the Geraldines at Affane, a ford over the Finisk tributary of the Blackwater River, in the foothills of the Knockmealdown Mountains near Lismore.

The battle[edit]

Desmond's forces were composed of his Fitzgerald kinsmen, allied Gaelic Irish clans such as the O'Connors and O'Briens, and one disaffected dependant of Ormonde's, Sir Piers Butler of Cahir. Ormonde's troops were provided by the Butler lords and allied Gaelic and Old English levies.

Desmond left Lismore at first light with 80–100 horse, 300–400-foot, as well as hundreds of followers, in the company of the MacCarthys, O'Sullivans, MacSheehys and O'Connors. He marched to Bewley at the tidal high point of the Finisk, where he demanded service of Fitzgerald in the formal way, according to the customary military exactions of coyne and livery. Fitzgerald offered arbitration, but Desmond insisted on the sole decision of his brehon: no agreement was reached.

Desmond pitched camp, ordered the slaughter of 60 cattle, and sent some horseboys out to fire a few houses before dispatching the rest to Dungarvan for wine. Three houses were set on fire, and Ormonde came down the mountain with the O'Kennedys, Gillapatricks and Burkes. Desmond was advised by a local man to attack immediately, on the false information that Ormonde himself was absent; Lord Power, however, urged him to retreat to his house at Curraghmore and consider his position. Desmond's assessment was that the opposing forces were weak and could be taken with ease, and so he chose to attack. The Geraldines set off for Dromana in the parish of Affane, the chief seat of the Fitzgeralds of the Decies, taking up reinforcements at Lismore on the way.

At this point Ormonde had progressed to the ford of Affane, a short distance below Lismore Castle, where his forces, bearing a red flag, were passed by Desmond's foot soldiers at the crossroads. Desmond's men hoisted their banner, and matters came to a head. Ormonde was spotted by Desmond, who immediately spurred his horse onward, causing a desultory exchange of gunfire. Ormonde fell into defensive formation, and his brother, Sir Edmund Butler of Cloughgrenan, hit Desmond in the right hip with a pistol-shot, cracking his thigh-bone and throwing him from his mount. With their leader fallen, the Geraldine troops were routed and the Butlers pursued them to the riverbank. About 300 Geraldines were killed, with many drowning as they were intercepted by armed boats in crossing the river.

As the captive Desmond was being carried shoulder-high from the field, an Ormonde commander rode up and jubilantly inquired, "Where is now the great Lord Desmond?" Whereupon Desmond is said to have retorted, "Where but in his proper place, on the necks of the Butlers." Desmond was taken in captivity to Clonmel and then to Waterford city, where the Lord Justice Nicholas Arnold took custody of him after a legal wrangle with Ormonde.


Elizabeth I of England was furious that two noble houses had fought a private battle, defying Royal authority in the Kingdom of Ireland. The fact that both sides had displayed their banners in the battle was a particular affront to her – as it was a symbolic rejection of the monopoly of the state on making war. Both Earls were summoned to London to explain their actions. However, the treatment of the dynasties was not even-handed: the Earl of Ormonde, a cousin of the Queen's and a court favourite, managed to convince Elizabeth that it was the Geraldines who were at fault. As a result, both Desmond (who had been brought before the privy council on a litter) and his brothers, John and James, were arrested and detained in the Tower of London; it was seven years before the earl returned to Munster with his wife, Eleanor. This action contributed significantly to unrest in the province of Munster and, ultimately, to the first of the Desmond Rebellions in 1569.


  • Lennon, Colm, Sixteenth Century Ireland – The Incomplete Conquest, Gill & Macmillan, Dublin 1994. ISBN 0-71-713947-6
  • Cyril Falls Elizabeth's Irish Wars (1950; reprint London, 1996). ISBN 0-09-477220-7.