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The 14 Tribes of Galway

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The 14 Tribes of Galway

Image right - Crests of the 14 Tribes of Galway; Image made available under respective copyrights. See the copyright statement for details at - Supported by the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government. (Click for larger image)

Ireland was ruled by tribes for many years. Under the Celts reign the country was divided into kingdoms ruled by alliances of tribes. These changed with the wars and battles undertaken by the Celts. The introduction of Christianity and the arrival of the Norse, Scottish and English settlers brought about change. The settlers claimed Irish territory as their own and eventually the country ended up divided into the four provinces of Ulster, Munster, Leinster and Connacht, ruled by the British Monarchy until the struggle for independence early in the 20th Century.

From the 13th to the 19th centuries 14 tribes emerged - powerful merchant families of Galway. They dominated politically, socially and commercially in the city and the surrounding region at that time. They came from various backgrounds, including Irish, Norse, French, English and Welsh. After the English conquered Ireland these families became more influential through trading with Europe, specifically Spain, becoming de facto rulers of the city. Galway was a thriving port of trade. The families distanced themselves from the natives living around the city, but both were united against British rule from 1641 - 1653. In 1649 Oliver Cromwell arrived in Dublin and suppressed any rebellion across the country. In 1651 his forces laid siege to Galway for a year - the city surrendered in 1652 and Cromwell confiscated all property belonging to the Tribes. Their influence was affected by the English Parliamentarians taking over the Galway Corporation. Cromwell called the families the "Tribes of Galway" - a name they adopted for themselves.

After Cromwell the Tribes became more influential under King Charles II and King James II, but the city were defeated in the War of the Two Kings in 1691. They never recovered and their power was gradually transferred to the Protestants of the city. By the 19th Century they were essentially gone.

The purpose of this project is to identify descendants of the "tribes" linking their Geni profiles to the project. Noteworthy people can be listed under the names below. Bold links are to Geni profiles. Other links are to external web pages.

The 14 Families


A family of Anglo-Norman descent, who rose to prominence under Gerard de Athee, a Norman knight who fought for Richard the Lionhearted, King of England. His wealthy descendants migrated to Ireland in the early 1300s. The name changed from Athee to Athy, and the family were credited with erecting Galway’s first stone building. They went on to build several castles and great houses, and survived in Galway until the mid-20th century. The surname is no longer very common in Ireland, and ‘Athy’ is better known as a town in county Kildare with no connection to the family.

Notable members

  • Margaret Athy (fl. 1508), founder of the Augustinian Friary of Forthill


The Galway Blake family descended from Richard Caddell, of British extraction who was involved in the Norman invasion of Ireland. He gave his successors the title of Blake, meaning ‘dark haired’, and made a name for himself as sheriff of Connaught. His successors went on to hold important seats in the region. Their primary seat was at Menlo near Galway. They were considered to be one of the most powerful of the Galway Tribes. The Blake name is still very common in the city and surrounding areas.

Notable members

  • John Blake fitz William, third Mayor of Galway, 1487–1488
  • Captain James "Spanish" Blake, fl. 1588–1635, spy and purported assassin of Red Hugh O'Donnell
  • Joaquín Blake y Joyes, (1759–1827), Spanish military officer who served with distinction in the French Revolutionary and Peninsular wars
  • Sally Blake, landowner and duelist, 1774–1870


The Bodkins’ ancestor was Maurice Fitzgerald, Lord of Windsor - one of the first invaders of Ireland under Strongbow. His son and subsequent generations rose to power in Munster through land ownership,. Their influence eventually spread to Connaught. The fourth generation of this line earned the name Bodkin due to his prowess in battle with a short spear called a Baudekin. The Bodkins allied with the Athys through marriage, cementing their status as one of the 14 Tribes.

Notable members

  • John Bodkin fitz Richard, Mayor of Galway, 1518–19
  • Dominick Dáll Bodkin, mass murderer, executed 8 October 1740
  • John Bodkin (died 1710), Roman Catholic Warden of Galway. After his death, his body was said to have been the subject of a miracle because it was thought to have not decayed
  • Leo Bodkin (1879 – 30 August 1919), British military officer and writer
  • Michael Bodkin (c.1888–1900), inspiration for Michael Furey in James Joyce's short story "The Dead"


The original Browne of Galway was another member of Strongbow’s invasion in the 1100s. He was appointed Governor of Wexford and laid siege to Limerick with an army of 60 men. He had three sons; one settled in Galway and started off the Browne line there. Another version of the ancestry states that a branch of the family settled in Brownstown, near Loughrea, expanding to Athenry and Galway. The Brownes were influential across Mayo and Galway, and the name is still prominent today.

Notable members

  • Geoffrey Browne (died 1668), Irish Confederate lawyer and politician
  • Mary Bonaventure Browne (before 1610 – after 1670), Poor Clare and historian,
  • John Denis Browne, 1st Marquess of Sligo
  • Garech Browne (born 1939), patron of Irish arts and one-time manager of The Chieftains


This family was thought to have descended from a powerful French family in Charlemagne, who named themselves after their seat 30 miles from Paris, Castle D’Arcie. A member of this family, Richard, travelled to England with William the Conqueror, and was appointed to powerful positions in Ireland in the 14th century. Recent DNA evidence has shown that the D’Arcys are in fact ancient Irish.

Notable members

  • Walter Riabhach Ó Dorchaidhe, founder of the merchant family
  • James Riabhach Darcy, Mayor of Galway, 1602–1603.
  • Patrick D'Arcy (1598–1668), Catholic Confederate and lawyer who wrote the constitution of Confederate Ireland.
  • Patrick d'Arcy (1725–1779), mathematician and soldier


Some sources say tyhat the Deane family were descendants from William Allen, who came to Ireland from Bristol during the reign of Henry VI. Allen was later elected Provost. There are also records of the Deanes having Gaelic origins, specifically the Mac an Deaganaigh or O Deaghain names, both meaning ‘son of the deacon’. They gained high status by their involvement in politics, and had a long history of holding official positions such as mayors and chief magistrates of Galway city.

Notable members

  • Edmond Deane, 18th Mayor of Galway, 1502–1504


The Ffonts are one of the lesser known of the Galway Tribes, and since the last surviving Ffont died in 1814 aged 105, their history seems to have been lost. They originated from an ancient English family in Leicestershire. The first significant branch of the family settled in Athenry, and eventually made their way to Galway.

Notable members
Geoffrey Font (1709–1814), centenarian


The Ffrench family has Norman origins. The first known Ffrench was Maximilian, whose descendants went to England to serve William the Conqueror. When they arrived in Ireland they initially settled in county Wexford, and gradually spread across the country. Walter Ffrench was the first of the family to settle in Galway c. 1425. There are still small clusters of Ffrench families in the area, including the some of the original line who still hold their seat at Castle Ffrench near Ballinasloe.

Notable members

  • Christopher French, (fl. c. 1650-c.1713), theologian
  • Sir Oliver Óg French (died 1666), Irish nationalist
  • Seán an tSalainn French (1489–1546), Mayor of Galway, 1538–1539
  • Arthur French, 1st Baron de Freyne
  • Patricio French (b. 1742-?) Spanish nobleman, merchant and politician
  • Conrad O'Brien-Ffrench (1893–1986), artist and secret agent,


Joyce is a common name in the west of Ireland. The original Joyce tribe once owned so much land in the region that it was known as ‘Joyce country’. The origins of the family are Welsh and British, starting with Thomas Joyes who sailed to Ireland under the reign of King Edward I. When he arrived in Munster he married Onorah O’Brien, daughter of the King of Munster. He sailed to Connaught, claiming territory as he went. The family later became known in the church, with some of them becoming archbishops and cardinals.

Notable members

  • Henry Joyce, Mayor of Galway, 1542–1543
  • Richard Joyce (c. 1660 – c. 1737), creator of the Claddagh Ring
  • Patrick Weston Joyce (1827 – November 1914) historian, writer, and music collector


The oldest of all the 14 Tribes are the Kirwen. They are proven to be 100% Irish Gaelic. They have successfully traced their ancestors all the way back to one of the original Gaels to inhabit Ireland, Milesius. They appear to have settled in Galway during Henry VI’s reign, but may have been there long before under a different variation of the name. They were one of the most respected of the Tribes given their long lineage and consistent success in all areas.

Notable members

  • William Ó Ciardhubháin, founder of the merchant family
  • Dominick Kirwin (fl. 1642–1653?), Irish Confederate
  • Joseph W. Kirwan (1796–1849), first president of Queen's College, Galway
  • Magdalen Kirwan (c.1830–1906), Sister of Mercy and manager of St. Vincent's Industrial School, Goldenbridge
  • Richard Kirwan (1733–1812), president of the Royal Irish Academy
  • Risteárd Buidhe Kirwan (1708–1779), soldier and duellist
  • Sarah Annette Kirwan (d. 1913), first wife of Sir Edward Carson, Ulster Unionist leader
  • Archibald Laurence Kirwan (1907-1999), KCMG, Egyptologist and archeologist; head of Royal Geographical Society


The Lynch family was the most powerful. Over 169 years 84 Lynches held the office of Mayor of Galway. They had a monopoly on the politics of the city and were highly regarded by the people and the rest of the tribes. The original Lynch ancestor was John de Lynch, whose grandfather William le Petit was an associate of the well known and powerful Sir Hugh de Lacy. There are still a small number of Lynch noblemen today, including a branch who have settled and become involved in the politics of Bordeaux.

Notable members

  • Anthony Lynch (c. 1576-after 1636), Dominican and Barbary captive
  • Christopher Lynch (fl. 1601–1604), Mayor of Galway
  • Dominick Dubh Lynch (died 1508), second Mayor of Galway
  • Germyn Lynch (fl. 1441–1483), merchant and entrepreneur
  • Isidore Lynch (1755–1841), soldier
  • Jean-Baptiste Lynch (1749–1835), Mayor of Bordeaux and a peer of France
  • John Lynch (1599?–1677?), historian and Archdeacon of Tuam
  • Maire Lynch (fl. 1547), Countess of Clanricarde
  • Thomas Kerr Lynch (1818–91), explorer


The origins of the Martin family are vague. Oliver Martin is said to have been the first of the name to settle in Ireland, arriving with Strongbow. The name was derived from ‘Martius’, meaning ‘warlike’. Other theories claim that Martins were descendants of the ancient Firbolg tribe, one of the very first arrivals on the island. The Martins proved to be very lucrative traders and were soon one of the most prosperous of the Tribes.

Notable members

  • Edward Martyn (1859–1923), political and cultural activist
  • Francis Martin (1652–1722), Augustinian priest
  • Mary Gabriel Martyn (1604–1672), abbess of the Poor Clares of Galway.
  • Mary Letitia Martin (1815–1850), writer
  • Peter Martin (STP) (died 1645), preacher
  • Richard Martin (1754–1834), founder of The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
  • Richard Óg Martyn (c. 1602–1648), member of the Catholic Confederates of Ireland
  • Violet Florence Martin, (1862–1915), author
  • William Óg Martyn (fl. 1566–1592), Sheriff and Mayor of Galway


The Morris family were not as noteworthy as the other Tribes of Galway, but were extremely successful and prosperous. They first settled in Galway in 1485 with the name Mares, which later transformed into Morech and finally Morris. They were involved in running the city’s affairs, regularly winning the titles of mayor and sheriff of the city. They held influence both in Galway city and in the nearby Spiddal, where their rural seat was located.

Notable members

  • Andrew Morris, Mayor of Galway, 1588–1589
  • Lieutenant-Colonel Hon. George Henry Morris, 1872–1914, commanding officer of the Irish Guards
  • Lord Killanin (1914–99), sixth president of the International Olympic Committee 1972–80
  • Redmond Morris, 4th Baron Killanin (born 1947), filmmaker
  • Mouse Morris (born 1951, racehorse trainer and former jockey


The Skerritts are closely associated with Galway since historical records began. First their name was Huscared, a name with English origins. They were granted lands in Connaught by Richard de Burgo in the 13th century. By the time their name had morphed into Skerritt, they had built a reputation as distinguished provosts. The Skerritt name is still common around Galway, particularly in the rural areas.

Notable members

  • John Skerrett (c.1620–c.1688), preacher and missionary
  • Nicholas Skerrett (died 1583), Archbishop of Tuam



  • "History of Galway", James Hardiman, Galway, 1820.
  • Old Galway, Maureen Donovan O'Sullivan, 1942.
  • Henry, William, Role of Honour:The Mayors of Galway City 1485–2001Galway, 2002. ISBN 0-906312-50-7
  • Martyn, Adrian, The Tribes of Galway:1124–1642, Galway, 2016. ISBN 978-0-9955025-0-5


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