Tribes of Galway

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A display of the 14 tribal flags in Eyre Square, Galway The Tribes of Galway, Eyre Square.jpg
A display of the 14 tribal flags in Eyre Square, Galway

The Tribes of Galway (Irish : Treibheanna na Gaillimhe) were 14 merchant families who dominated the political, commercial and social life of the city of Galway in western Ireland between the mid-13th and late 19th centuries. They were the families of Athy, Blake, Bodkin, Browne, Darcy/D’Arcy, Deane, Font, French, Joyce, Kirwan, Lynch, Martyn, Morris and Skerritt. Of the 14 families, 12 were of Anglo Norman origin, while two—the Darcy (Ó Dorchaidhe) and Kirwan (Ó Ciardhubháin) families—were Normanised Irish Gaels. [1]



The Tribes were merchant families who prospered from trade with continental Europe. They dominated Galway's municipal government during the medieval and early modern eras. [2]

The Tribes distinguished themselves from the Gaelic peoples who lived in the hinterland of the city. Many of these families spoke Irish as a second or even first language. However, the feared suppression of their common faith joined both groups together as Irish Catholics after the Irish Rebellion of 1641. During the Irish Confederate Wars (1641–1653), Galway took the side of the Confederate Catholics. Following the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland, the English government punished the Tribes. Galway was besieged and after it surrendered in April 1652, the Tribes had to face the confiscation of their property by the New Model Army.

The Tribes lost much of their power within Galway city after English Parliamentarians took over the Galway Corporation in 1654. Cromwell's forces referred to them by the derogatory name, "The Tribes of Galway", which the families later adopted as a mark of defiance. [3]

Galway's urban elite gained a restoration of some of their power 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' once overwhelming political influence on the life of the city. Power passed to the small Protestant population. Garrison members of the Tribes who owned land in Galway and Mayo were protected by the advantageous surrender provisions that were signed on 22 July 1691.

Notable members





Darcy/D’Arcy (Ó Dorchaidhe)


Font (ffont)

French (ffrench)


Kirwan (Ó Ciardhubháin)


Martin (Ó Máirtín)



Modern use

Similar to the nicknames used for other Irish counties, Galway city and county and its people are known as the tribesmen. This nickname is derived from this term. [5]

The tribes also lend their names to 14 of the roundabouts in or around the boundaries of Galway city. The roundabouts are signposted on navy blue signs containing the tribe's name in the Irish language. [6]

See also

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Richard Óge Martyn was a Galway lawyer and member of the Catholic Confederates of Ireland. He was of the senior line of the Martyn family, one of the Tribes of Galway. He lived at Dunguaire Castle, Kinvarra. He worked with his brother-in-law and first cousin, Patrick D'Arcy, against the Plantation of Connaught in the 1630s, and served on the Supreme Council of the Confederate Catholics in the 1640s.

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Thomas Óge Martyn, Mayor of Galway, fl. 1533-c. 1577.

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Margaret Athy was an Irish religious patron.

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Seoirse Brún, was an Irish scribe, fl. 1876. Brún, a native of Creggduff, Annaghdown, County Galway, is known only from a manuscript called RBÉ F006. It contains the following note:

George Browne Cregg Duff This Book/Belongs to him For Certain No Other Person/in This Locality can claim on This/Book but him Alone When he is Dead/and his bones are rotten This Little Book/Will tell his Name when he is quite/Forgotten Given under My ha[n]d this 18th Day of Oct 1876 - George Browne/Cregg Duff Annadown/County of Galway Ireland, The European Iliad.

William Ó Ciardhubháin, fl. 1488, was an Irish merchant and the founder of one of the Tribes of Galway.

Tomás Bobhdacing, founder of the Bodkin family of The Tribes of Galway, fl. c. 1300.

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Risteárd Buidhe Kirwan (1708–1779) was an Irish soldier and duellist.

Stephen Lynch was the 23rd Mayor of Galway, serving from 1507 to 1510.

James Riabhach Darcy was Mayor of Galway in Ireland 1602–1603.

Sir Dominick Browne, Irish merchant and landowner, c. 1585c. 1656.

Geoffrey Browne was an Irish lawyer and politician.

Walter Riabhac Ó Dorchaidhe, Irish merchant and founder of the Darcy tribe of Galway, fl. c. 1488.


  1. O'Sullivan, M.D. (1983). Old Galway: the history of a Norman colony in Ireland (reprint ed.). Kennys Bookshops & Art Galleries. p. 17.
  2. O'Sullivan, M.D. (1983). Old Galway: the history of a Norman colony in Ireland (reprint ed.). Kennys Bookshops & Art Galleries. p. 3. ISBN   978-0906312216.
  3. Hardiman, James (1820). The History of the Town and County of the Town of Galway. Dublin: W. Folds and Sons. pp. 6–7.
  4. "Sir Laurence Kirwan". The Guardian. 21 April 1999. Retrieved 11 May 2019.
  5. Hughes, Martin (2007). Irish language & culture. Oakland, California: Lonely Planet. p. 196. ISBN   9781740595773.
  6. "Galway, the city of tribes and developers". The Irish Times. 9 November 2004. Retrieved 25 June 2023.