The Tribes of Galway were fourteen merchant families who dominated the political, commercial, and social life of the city of Galway in western Ireland between the 13th and 16th centuries. They were the families of Athy, Blake, Bodkin, Browne, D'Arcy, Deane, Ffont, Ffrench, Joyce, Kirwan, Lynch, Martyn, Morris and Skerrett. They were of Anglo-Norman or Cambro-Norman origin except for the D'Arcy/Darcy (Ó Dorchaidhe) and Kirwan (Ó Ciardhubháin) families who were of Irish origin.
The "Tribes" were wealthy merchant families who prospered from trade with continental Europe, they also dominated Galway's municipal government.
Members of the 'Tribes' were considered Old English gentry, and distinguished themselves from the Gaelic peoples who lived in the hinterland of the city. However the feared suppression of their common faith joined both sides together as Irish Catholics after the Irish Rebellion of 1641 (indeed for many Irish was a second or even first language). During the Irish Confederate Wars (1641-1653), Galway took the side of the Confederate Catholics of Ireland, and as a result the Tribes were punished following the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland. The town was besieged and after the surrender of Galway in April 1652, the Tribes of the city had to face the confiscation of their property by the New Model Army.
The Galway Corporation was taken over in October 1654 by English Parlimentarians and, despite a measure of power during the reign of King Charles II (1660-1685) and the War of the Two Kings (1689-91), the Tribes had lost their power within the city. Because of the uncertain response to this dilemma by the merchant families, Cromwell's forces referred to them by the derogatory name, "The Tribes of Galway", which they themselves later adopted as a mark of defiance.
Galway's urban elite enjoyed a measure of thier power restored during the reign of the King Charles II (1660-1685) and his successor James II. However, Jacobite defeat in the War of the Two Kings (1689-91), marked the end of the Tribes' soon overwhelming influence on the life of the city - which passed to its small Protestant population.
Distinguished members of the Tribes
The first known member of Lynch family to have settled in the city was William "le Petit" Lynch in 1185, whose son, Nicholas, married the sole heir of wealthy and prominent family and the Lynch family remained the premier Tribal family till well into the 19th centuary. They dominated the office of mayor from 1485 to 1654, Peirce Lynch being the first to be appointed.
Captain James "Spanish" Blake (fl.1588-1635) was an agent for the English secret service during the Nine Years War (Ireland) (1594-1603) and was said to have been responsible for the assassination of Red Hugh O'Donnell in Spain in 1602 (although this is doubtful).
Richard Martin (1754-1834) was a long-time advocate of Catholic Emancipation and a founder of The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Lord Killanin (1915-99), sixth president of the International Olympic Committee 1972-80, was a descedant of the Morris tribe. All the surnames of the Tribes are still to be found in Galway City and County, except for Athy and Font, and Deane and Skerret are rare. In 2000, Angela Lynch became the 84th Lynch to serve as Mayor of Galway since 1485.