Friday, October 28, 2016

RIHLA (Journey 61): GALWAY – A Medieval City State 1232 -1694

Rihla (The Journey) – was the short title of a 14th Century (1355 CE) book written in Fez by the Islamic legal scholar Ibn Jazayy al-Kalbi of Granada who recorded and then transcribed the dictated travelogue of the Tangerian, Ibn Battuta. The book’s full title was A Gift to Those who Contemplate the Wonders of Cities and the Marvels of Travelling and somehow the title of Ibn Jazayy's book captures the ethos of many of the city and country journeys I have been lucky to take in past years.

Some of the best journeys you can take are those closest to you.


Ignoring any mythical or invented compound etymological derivation, Galway is as it always has been: Gaillimhthe Place of the Foreigners, the Gaill – and a city from its earliest foundation dedicated to trading and mercantile adventure.1
How do we know this?

The Gaelic territorial area or túath surrounding Galway is the túath of the Clan Fergaile – the túath of the “Men or Middlemen of the Foreigners” – and the dominant sept of the Clan Fergail were the O’Hallorans, who in turn were a subject clan to the O’Flahertys of Maigh Seola, and ultimately the O’Conor Kings of Connacht.2 O’Halloran is the English translation of O’h-Allmhurain, the descendents of Allmurhan, which derives from the Gaelic allumhaire – “one who imports”.3

The O’Hallorans settled in the Galway area in the 6-7th centuries and established Galway as a wic or emporium trading with Gaulish traders from about that time. In the 1230s the Anglo-Norman family the deBurgos invaded Connacht and dispossessing the O’Hallorans and the O’Flahertys displaced them across the Corrib and Mask lakes to the wild-west territories of Iar Connacht where they retained their independence until the 1590s.

The Anglo-Normans loved land, loved manipulating law to achieve their ends, but most of all loved money and the power it brought. It was the deBurgos who set about fortifying Galway in 1270 and building the Hall of the Red Earl in 1273. The Hall is at the very nucleus of medieval Galway, and served as the deBurgo administrative, judicial and customs collection centre.4

The deBurgos energies however were dedicated to consolidating and settling with planter families the territories east of the Corrib and invited in mercantile families to administer and run Galway on their behalf. This was to be their Trojan Horse moment.

In the Lynch family in particular, the deBurgos were to encounter their mercantile nemesis. The Lynches from the beginning were true ‘merchant adventurers’ and also were well-connected to the Anglo-Norman nobility. In 1274CE a Thomas deLince was appointed provost or portreve of Galway and in 1280 he married Bridget Marshall, the granddaughter of John Marshal, Marshal of Ireland. Bridget’s great-great-grand uncle was Richard deClare, Strongbow, the original Anglo-Norman robber-baron in Ireland.

In 1277, either a brother or cousin of Thomas, a William deLench (deLince/Lynch) was also appointed the collector of customs duties for Galway, primarily acting as Crown agents for the Ricciardi bankers of Lombardy, to whom Edward I of England was in hock. William deLench had to hand over these tolls to the Ricciardis in Dublin. The arrangement between Edward I and the Ricciardi was to last until 1294 but is remembered in name of Lombard Street in Galway.

The deLinces/deLenches/Lynches, always opportunists, were to imitate the deBurgo’s and marry into the local Gaelic gentry and ‘merchant-adventures’ of a previous era. Thomas deLench was to have two sons, James and William. James gave rise to the Crann Mór or senior branch of the family, later typified by the 19th century ‘merchant adventurers’ Lynch-Blosse family of County Mayo. William married Anne O’Halloran of the Bearna Castle Clan Fergaile O’Halloran’s and interestingly 400 years later one of his descendents Stephen Lynch was to buy out the last O’Halloran Lord of Bearna.

Like the O’Flahertys before them the deBurgos had two major failings: one a tendency to kill-off competing members of the family and secondly, a distrust and resistance to central or Royal government control of their activities. This was to be their undoing. At the instigation of the mercantile families of Galway, especially the Lynches, in Jan 1396 Edward IV removed the right of the deBurgos to dictate the administration of the corporation and instead formally established a Corporate Body subject to Royal approval. By Richard III’s Charter to the City of December 1484 this marginalisation was complete, and the deBurgos – again like the deBurgos had done to the O’Flahertys and O’Hallorans 200 years earlier – were deliberately excluded from the city. The Lynches, and the other mercantile families, not unlike the Medici in Florence, the Sforza in Milan, the Dandolo of Venice, had gained complete power to dictate the destiny of the City.


The building of walls to enclose the town of Galway had been started in 1270 by Walter deBurgo and following his death in 1271, were continued by his son Richard Óg deBurgo, known as the Red Earl. Part of this expansion included a decision to build a separate manorial hall to the castle, thereby putting a distance (albeit a very short one) between the residential and the administrative. The castle in Galway to all intents and purposes served as the deBurgo’s “townhouse”, given that their main concerns were appropriating land away from Galway in the remainder of Connacht, they had their main castle or caput at Loughrea. It is known that Richard Óg never spent much time in Galway but because the Hall was completed in his lifetime it came to be called after him.

The Hall housed both the customs collection office and town administration, as well as being the site for the Town’s judicial Hundred’s Court. Importantly, it also served as the location for large banquets, and these must have been extensive and gluttonous affairs, judged by the amount of food-related finds uncovered during the archeological excavations (See Hackett & Delaney in References below). The hall completed about 1273, was built on fairly shallow foundations, appears to have been of a two story type with the main hall above, and a necessary kitchen and storage area below, with also perhaps had a cramped and basement dungeon. The Hall in effect became Galway’s first purpose-built Tholsel.5

When the deBurgo’s invaded and planted Connacht they had, given their Royal patent, to hold and administer five cantreds of that appropriated land for the Crown. None of this reserved land included property in the town of Galway and as a consequence the city became the personal fiefdom of the deBurgo family, who then set about establishing a city-state.

By 1333 the adjoining DeBurgo castle (“the stone house”) of Dhun Bun na Gaillimhe seems to have fallen into disrepair, and its masonry used elsewhere but as mentioned earlier, from the time of Richard Óg deBurgo’s death in 1326 it had been little used in any event as a residence, given that most of his surviving children were girls and had been married off out of Connacht.6 

The Hall continued to carry on its functions with all customs, murage (wall-building) and judicial functions, administered by a prescriptive corporation, appointed by and fully controlled by the DeBurgo family or their descendents. These included the family of Richard Óg’s uncle William Óg de Burgo (founder of the McWilliam Íochtar Bourkes of Mayo) and those of an illegitimate half-brother of his grandfather Richard Mór (the McWilliam Uachter or Clanricarde Burkes). Galway and the Hall fell into the remit of the Clanricarde branch of the family.

The Hall however in structural integrity appeared to follow the fortunes of its founder family intimately and in the 1330s, coinciding with the cracks appearing in the DeBurgo legacy caused by the internecine DeBurgo or Burke Civil war of succession, additional external buttresses and central pillars were added to support the poorly built building. This was an important development because of the increased demand or load on the building caused by Galway being granted Kings’ Staple, or Royal Custom’s clearing-house, in 1375. Although the Staple was revoked two years later the remedial works had saved the Hall from falling down.

On the other hand Galway as a corporate entity, as a trading entrepot was thriving but as a consequence of the deBurgo Civil war the control of the Hall’s functions was beginning to slip from the deBurgo’s grasp. In 1396 Richard II granted a Charter to the city, which established a Corporate Body and a Sovereign to be appointed as chief administrator instead of the deBurgo provost or portreeve. This was resisted strongly by the deBurgos and it was not until 1434 that a Sovereign (an Edmund Lynch) was in place, around the time that Cosimo de’ Medici came to power in Florence and the Sforza’s in Milan.

Like the de’ Medici and Sforza the mercantile families of Galway, the Blakes, Kirwans, Skerrets and Lynches were becoming stronger and increasingly resented the deBurgos involving ‘their’ town (and their revenue streams) in deBurgo disputes with Royal governance. In addition to this most of the leading families had built or were building their own castellated “townhouses” from which much of the town’s administration was being carried out depending on which family was Sovereign. Apart from the judicial and ceremonial functions of the Hall of the Red Earl much of its “power” remit had been removed.

In 1464 a Charter of Edward IV transferred all decisions in regard to access to the town to the Sovereign and burghers and thereafter as Amanda Hartnett (see references at end) has pointed out “the prime directive of the mayor and council of Galway was to protect the exclusivity of their status group.” This mercantile takeover of power particularly applied to the de Burgos.

The status of the Hall during this time is a little uncertain. There was a major fire in Galway in 1473 in which much of the town was destroyed and there is little or no information as to whether the Hall was caught up in the blaze and perhaps had to be repaired again. The town appeared to recover quickly but this recovery appears to have been fully to the credit of the ‘Tribe” families rather than any help received from the deBurgos. Resentment simmered and by 1484 a Charter of Richard III confirming previous Charters and the legal status of the Galway Corporation took the specific step of excluding the McWilliam Burkes (deBurgos) of Clanricarde from having any power within the town. Henceforward a Mayor instead of a Sovereign would control the town, and in 1485 a Pierce Lynch was appointed Mayor (who else!) This exclusion of the deBurgo’s was again reaffirmed in 1543 when Sir William de Burgh was created the Earl of Clanrickard by Henry VIII, a condition of which – petitioned hard for by the city Corporation –stated specifically that the Earl would henceforth not ‘claim any thing whatsoever’ in the town ‘forever’. At this stage the mercantile City tribes were at their peak, and had used their new found wealth to buy estates and build castles on the territory surrounding the city.

The deBurgos may have been gone but the Hall continued in ceremonial use, at least until 1524 when a peace treaty between Galway and Limerick over a commercial dispute was signed there. By 1550 however the Hall appeared to be in ruins. Perhaps another fire had destroyed the roof and it was not felt that it was worth repairing. In addition to this the needs were expanding. A decision was made by the Corporation to erect a new Tholsel and it is recorded that a James Óg Lynch, a mayor of the town in 1557 commissioned at his expense, close to the Shambles, the east side of the new Tholsel and two years later the building was completed by his relative Dominick Lynch. The ‘new’ Tholsel contained prison cells below, shops and a toll-booth on the ground floor and the courthouse and corporation administration rooms on the first floor.

The same Dominick Lynch petitioned the Privy Council in 1566 to build a school on the site of the Hall, known by this stage as the “Earls Stone” or “cloch-na-hiarla”, but this plan did not come to pass and by 1585 the ruined Hall had become an Iron smelting works.

Adapted from: Daly D. 2004b Courthouse Lane (97E82): Excavation. In Archeological Investigations in Galway City, 1987-1998. Fitzpatrick E, Walsh P, O’Brien M, eds. Wordwell Ltd., Bray. 

But change was afoot both religious and secular in Galway.  Henry VIII’s break from Rome, his becoming the first King of Ireland since the last Gaelic High King Rory O’Connor in 1193, and the dissolution of the monasteries drove a “faith or favour” wedge between Galway’s tribal families. In addition to this, the City itself was coming under pressure. Elizabeth I created the Presidency of Connacht in 1569 and the Province was divided into Counties shortly afterwards. This was for the purpose of imposing and creating a single taxation system rather than the multiple levies imposed and collected by feudal overlords, both Norman and Gaelic. In 1585 the Composition of Connacht confirmed this shiring and all of the Gaelic clan’s, including the O’Flahertys and O’Hallorans of Iar Connacht and the Anglo-Norman Burke/Bourkes/deBurgos of East and North Connacht were brought under a centrally Crown-controlled County administrative structure, nearly 500 years later than it had occurred in the rest of the British Isles. The new County administration was to take precedence over the City and these functions were removed to Loughrea. The County azzizes were held alternatively between Loughrea and Galway and in 1610 the County moved into the deserted Franciscan friary on St Stephen’s island outside the City walls.

In the same year James I granted a new Charter to the city, which created a new “County of the City”, a liberties that stretched two miles in all directions from the city walls, except the land of St Stephen’s Island (where the new County of Galway courthouse was housed) and St Augustine’s Fort which were to remain the property of the County of Galway, and not of the County of the Town of Galway. A new Guild of Merchants was incorporated and Ulick Lynch became the first Mayor and in 1637 a decision was made to erect a new Tholsel.

In 1651 the famous Pictorial Map of Galway shows two “shell” buildings. The first was the unfinished new or third city Tholsel close to St Nicholas’ Church and the second was the ruin of the first Tholsel, the Hall of the Red Earl. The following year on the 12th April 1652 Cromwell’s forces marched into the city, after a siege of 8 months, and soon disenfranchised, displaced or destroyed many of the mercantile families, who moved or were moved to estates in the County, and planted the city with new settler Protestant English. The Corporation was abolished and the City-State of mercantile adventurer’s at an end.

Cromwell’s administration destroyed all of the Franciscan Abbey buildings apart from the Church, including the priory where the County Courts were held, and moved the Courts to the pillaged Church. In 1689 the Friars returned to take possession of the Church and the Courts needed a new home. This requirement spelt the final end for the Hall of the Red Earl, and its witness to the city-state that once was Galway. The walls were pulled down and the new County Courthouse was erected on the site and completed by 1694. It would serve as the County Courthouse for about 100 years until 1812 when a new Courthouse was built on St Stephen’s Island and which remains in operation today.


The mercantile adventurers who had created the city-state were scattered to the four winds, to become merchant-traders (even slavers!) in the Caribbean, merchant-traders in France, merchant-adventurers in the Middle East. Today the glass-canopied interpretive centre protecting the Hall's archeological remains reflects the change in Galway’s direction. It is entered from a laneway that was once called The Earl’s Lane when the city was an independent City State, then Courthouse Lane when the City was subject forever after to central control, and now Druid Lane in honour of the Theatre Company across the road which has helped position Galway as a capital of culture… a capital of Tourist-Adventurers in a new age of selling experiences rather than hides or hogs of wine.

Would the O’Hallorans, O’Flahertys, deBurgos, Lynches, Nolans, turn in their graves if the could see where the city was heading? 

Not at all, I suspect. I live on land that was once part of the territory or túath of the Clan Fergaile, indeed it is part of what once was the óenach of the O'h-Allmurhain sept, the O'Halloran castle of Bearna; land that has always been subject to a bartering of its destiny, depending on the fortunes of its owners.  It is land that was in the 19th century in hock by the Lynches to the Rothschild bankers in London; in the 18th century in hock to Whalley, one of Cromwell's officers; in the 17th century in hock by the O'Hallorans to the Lynches and so on back into the mists of time. When I am walking the dogs I walk the same paths those "merchant-adventurers" took and, listening to the sound of ages, I imagine the oaks whispering, 

"No, they would not be too bothered about the direction the new Galway is headed, they would just have found a way to turn a penny." 

That is the true nature of a City-State. Where the Hall of the Red Earl is concerned, and its position at the heart of that state, I suspect that those merchant-adventurers who have gone before would all have appreciated the legacy of the Hall but without any significant nostalgia attached.


As pointed out by James Hardiman in his seminal 1820 History of the Town and County of the Town of Galway there was no real etymological consensus in the early 19th century as to how or when Galway derived its name; or whether the town gave its name to the river delta on which it is situated – the river that connects Lough Corrib to the sea – or visa versa. Even today, that most modern of encyclopaedias – Wikipedia – perpetuates an 18th Century determination by Charles Vallancey of the city’s name as being derived from “galmhaith”, an Irish compound word he had ‘invented’ and which according to Vallancey meant “stony ground”.

Vallancey, an English military surveyor and amateur philologist whose work later experts considered to be absurd and who decried Vallancey as having ‘wrote more nonsense than any man of his time’. It is true that from a geological perspective the river is rock filled but the etymological derivation is entirely without foundation! 
From an etymological perspective gaill is and has been the Irish Gaelic for “foreigner” and has been applied since the first native Celtic speaking inhabitants referred to strangers from overseas, in contrast to the Gael familiars. The word was later applied, particularly in the earliest Irish written records to the Norse (Fionn Gaill or Fair Haired Foreigners) the Danish (Gaill Dubh or Black Haired Foreigners) Viking invaders, as well as to the Anglo-Normans and later English.

The ending attached to the noun is –imh, an old Irish plural suffix.  Thus it was the nature of the inhabitants that defined Galway’s name, not the nature of its geography.


Organised tribal migrations, reflecting the westward displacement caused by tribe after tribe pushing out of the Eurasian steppes, were to follow the isolated pockets of journeymen and tribal groups such as the Érainn or Belgae (?Fir Bolg) (c.500 BCE), the Laigin (c. 300 BCE) and in particular the Góidel (c. 200 BCE) from south-western France and northern Spain (the Milesians) arrived. They brought not so much a similar language (it was their Celtic that was modified by the already thriving Irish Celtic language not the other way round) but more importantly their well-developed tribal sense of ancestry, of hierarchy, of laws and customs as well as the propensity for implosion that was to dictate the evolution of Gaelic society.

As a consequence of these successive acquisitive Celtic “tribal” migrations and society structure Ireland became a patchwork of “carved-out” petty and small territorial tuáth or “kingdoms” each jostling for supremacy based on what has been called a “geography of lineage”, a kinship to a supposed common ancestor; and each generally undone by that kinship and a very recurrent Gaelic fault-line of internecine strife.

By about 100 C.E. the territory to the west of Galway and also the territory to its immediate north-east were under the control of the Delbhna Tir dha Locha (the MacConraoi and O’Heney tribes) and the Delbhna Cuile Fabhar of Maigh Seola respectively, who were subject to the Garmanraige clan (of Fir Bolg descent) of the Cóicead Ol nEchmacht, the ancient territorial name for what is now the province of Connacht.

Farthest west, existing on the Atlantic coast and displaced from the Galway hinterland despite intermarriage with the Delbhna, were another early tribal group known as the Conmhaícne Mara (who have given their name to Connemara), descendants of the Fir Bolg tuath mhac nUmhoir, who were dominated by the O’Cadhla (O’Kealy) clan. Their isolation was also their protection from 200BCE to 1200CE.

To the south-east of the Cóicead Ol nEchmacht (Connacht) Kingdom and stretching as far as the western banks of the Shannon was another Fir Bolg dynastic territory Aidhne.

Around 300CE the Uí Maine from Ulster crossed the Shannon and invaded Aidhne from the north-east. A short time later the Connachta tribal federation, descendants of the High King of Ireland Conn Cétchathach, crossed the Shannon River and skirting the newly acquired territory of the Uí Maine appropriated the remaining lands of the Aidhne before moving northwards along the eastern banks of the Corrib to invade the territory of Cóicead Ol nEchmacht. The Connachta consisted of the three junior branches (the Uí Briúin, the Uí Fiachrach, Uí Alill named after the half-brothers of Niall of the Nine Hostages) of the Uí Neill dynasty, who had claimed the High Kingship of Ireland at Tara.

The Uí Ailill settled on Aidhne lands close to the Shannon but were eventually subhumed by the Uí Maine.

After subjugating the Ol nEchmacht federation, the Uí Briúin Ai and Uí Fiachrach dynasties became Kings of Ol nEchmacht (but renamed Cúige Chonnacht – the “fifth” of the Connachta) around 482CE and established Ráth Cruachan in Co. Roscommon as the óenach tribal assembly site and royal residence. As was the wont of most Gaelic tribes, by the mid-6th century the Uí Bruin and the Uí Fiachrach septs began fighting for overall control of Connaught and in 680CE the Uí Briúin came to ascendancy and were then called the Uí Briúin Ai.

The Uí Fiachrach as losers in this power struggle were subsequently restricted to the last remaining westernmost territory of the Aidhne and thereafter they became known as the Uí Fiachrach Aidne.

Immediately north of the Uí Fiachrach Aidne, because the main body of the Uí Briúin Ai were located in the north-east of the province where their energies were directed in preventing more invasions from the North, an administrative sub-kingdom of the Uí Briúin Ai was established to the east side of the Corrib, on the territory previously held by the Delbhna Cuile Fabhar and called Uí Briúin Seola.

All dynasties evolve. By 950 CE the Ó’Conchubhair (O’Conor) clan had become the dominant force of the Uí Briúin Ai and as such were proclaimed Kings of Connacht in 967CE. Their powerful ascendancy also meant that they became High Kings of Ireland in 1119CE.

Equally dynastic change occurred in the sub-kingdom of Uí Briúin Seola, controlled by the Muintir Murchada grouping of clans since 848CE. Although subject to their kin, the O’Conor King’s of Connaught, the Ó Flaithbertaighs (O’Flahertys) came to be the dominant clan of the Muintir Murchada and around 993CE became the tigerna or Lords of the Uí Briúin Seóla oireacht, a túath controlled from Lough Hackett near Tuam, Co. Galway and consisting of most of eastern shoreline of Lough Corrib. In addition, in response to the Viking incursions that had begun in 807CE the O’Flahertys established a maritime force that was based on the islands of Lough Corrib (Orbsen).

The intrigues and murderous remit of Roman, Byzantine or early Ottoman ruling families were child’s play in comparison to the poisonings, blinding’s, assassinations carried out by Irish clan families against each other. Despite the ties and owed loyalties of kinship the O’Flahertys, a particularly belligerent clan, were determined to usurp total control of Connacht from the O’Conors. From 945CE they had also styled themselves Lords of Iarthair Connacht, indicating that they already dominated the clans (McConrai and O’Heynes) to the immediate west of the Corrib, and emboldened by this increasing power as well as their maritime forces tried to depose Aedh O’Connor, the King of Connaught in 1048CE.
Shortly afterwards the O’Conors rallied, defeated and beheaded Rory O’Flaherty and banished most of the O’Flahertys from the greater portion of Maigh Seola across the Corrib. Furthermore, in order to protect themselves, the O’Conors moved the Royal seat from Ráth Cruachan in Roscommon to Tuam on the edge of Maigh Seola, to keep a wary eye on any renewed dynastic ambitions of the O’Flahertys.

In 1092CE however, this “close monitoring” appeared to fail and an O’Flaherty became King of Connaught after blinding – making him unfit for kinship – the O’Connor incumbent. This putsch ensured that the O’Flahertys recovered some of their previous held territories of Maigh Seola and this was described in the Annals of “Crichaireacht cinedach nduchsa Muintiri Murchada”, written in the time of the briefly held O’Flaherty kingship, as being a Tract within the territory of the Muintir Murchada. Although a very much reduced túath its importance as the spiritual home of the O’Flaherty’s to the clan was inestimable. Its óenach or assembly place was at Óenach Dhúin, a mixed ecclesiastical and secular enclosed area, on the shores of the Corrib and known today as Annaghdown.

By 1106CE the O’Conors had not only recovered the Kingdom of Connacht from the O’Flahertys but had also become High Kings of Ireland. Turlough O’Conor ruled for 50 years but his ascendency, owed much to his uncle an O’Brien of Munster. O’Conors determination to eradicate all other competing Uí Briúin genealogical histories, laid the seeds for the future conflicts between various O’Conors but also between Connaught and Munster. The relationship of Turlough O’Conor to an O’Brien of Munster also later provided the Anglo-Norman de Burgos with a pretext to invade Connaught in the 1230s.

The O’Flahertys however had made use of their time after being banished westwards across the Corrib and using their resources came to fully dominate the nearest tribal areas to the Corrib of Gno More, Gno Beg and Ballinahinch,. They then used their power as Lords of Iar (West) Connacht to become indispensible to the O’Conors; the O’Conors perhaps approving of Godfather Michael Corleone’s adage “Keep your friends close but enemies closer” to be a wise move!

In 1119CE Turlough O’Connor had split the O’Brien Kingdom of Munster into two halves, Thomond and Desmond and soon the O’Conors and the O’Flahertys were fighting side-by-side in trying to deal with revenge incursions from Munster. In 1124CE Turlough O’Conor installed Conchobhar O’Flaherty as governor in the newly built O’Conor castle and enclave of Dún Bhun na Gaillimhe (Fort at the Mouth of the Galway River) in order to protect his southern flank. In 1132 Cormac Mac Carthaigh of Desmond came by sea and demolished the castle of Dún Bhun na Gaillimhe and plundered and burnt the surrounding town. The following day in a further battle at An Cloidhe (The Claddagh) Conchobhar was killed.

In addition to a secular control of the territory of Gaillimh and surrounding districts the O’Flahertys were also beginning to exert ecclesiastical control. By 1200 CE the secular Gaelic clan control of the túath territorial areas in Ireland was being severely undermined by the increasing power, wealth and ecclesiastical influence of disparate monastic foundations. A hierarchial ecclesiastical diocesan and parish structure was finally imposed on this motley group of monasteries at the Synod of Ráth Breasil in 1111CE and Kells-Mellifont in 1152CE. In 1150CE the monastic centre of Annaghdown, which had been founded in the 6th century by St Brendan the Navigator for his sister Briga, evolved into Annaghdown Diocese, which in addition to Maigh Seola then assumed administrative control for parishes both west of the Corrib in Iar Connacht and south of the Corrib in the territory of the Clan Fergail.

In 1202CE Murchad O’Flaherty became the second bishop of Annaghdown and in 1223CE, in line with the Pope Gregory VII instigated church reforms sweeping across Europe and influenced by St. Malachy, he invited the White Canons or Premonstratensians (Strict Interpreters of the Rule of St. Augustinian) of the Tuam monastery (founded c.1203 as offshoot of main Prémontré Abbey) to establish a “daughter house” monastery in Annaghdown. Unusually, an earlier Arroasian (another Order very similar to the Premonstratensians following the Rule of St. Augustine) Convent had been established by Turlough O’Connor at Annaghdown in 1144CE so, with the arrival of the White Cannons, Annaghdown became a double-monastery site. The convent was known as St Mary of the St Patrick’s Gate.

As the 12th century drew to a close not only were the O’Flaherty and O’Conor families trying to kill members of their own families off but they also renewed their open hostility to each other. In 1207 Cathal Crobhdearg O’Conor once again tried to exile the O’Flahertys across the Corrib by giving their territory to his son Aedh (Hugh) O’Conor and in 1230 it was the conflict between the two grandsons of Cathal Crobhdearg for the Kingship of Connacht that gave the Anglo-Norman de Burgos a pretext to invade the province.

South of Maigh Seola, and the secular and ecclesiastical O’Flaherty óenach of Annaghdown, another Uí Briúin clan – the O’Halloran’s – had their túath. The túath was known as the Clan Fergail.

Clan Fergail owed their lineage to Allmhuran (died c.450CE), whose name derives from the Gaelic allumhaire: “One who imports”. By 800CE the O’h-Allmhurain or O’Halloran descendants of Allmhuran – and kinsmen of the O’Flaherty’s through Aongus brother of Duach Galach, the first Christian Uí Briúin King of Connacht – had become established in the area around present day Galway city where they had partially displaced the Delbhna Tir dha Locha from the eastern half of Gno Beg.

The O’Hallorans came to fully control a territory of 24 town-lands centered on Gaillimh and became known as Clan Fergail, or túath of the Men of the Foreigners (or Foreign Merchants depending on which derivation of gaill you accept).  With the Atlantic waters of Galway Bay acting as its southern border the Clan Fergail territory extended about 6 km from Roscam in the East (where the O’Antuiles (the O’Halloran innkeepers) and O’Fergus (the O’Halloran land managers) clans were subordinate) to the village of Barna 6km to the West. It also extended about 6km northwards to the southern shore of Lough Orbsen (Lough Corrib) where it adjoined the O’Flaherty’s territory of Maigh Seola at Claregalway.

Irish Gaelic society, unlike the English Anglo-Saxon society, did not have a tradition of established coastal “wics” or emporia. They preferred to conduct their trading at the usually inland-situated tribal óenach assembly and fair sites. Allmurhan may have got his name (nickname!) as an “importer” from deliberately conducting trade with (or living within) a foreigner’s coastal enclave established at Gaillimh. As mentioned earlier this could have been, as early as 200CE as a Phoenician outpost but certainly by 650CE Gaulish traders from Acquitane and Bordeaux were brining wine to Ireland.

It appears that Allmurhan’s descendants, the Clan Fergail (O’Hallorans), spreading out to control the area surrounding the coastal wic at Gaillimh, were always traders rather than fighters. After making an early military alliance with the O’Flahertys to deal with Viking raids from 807CE onwards, the O’Hallorans destiny was to be entwined with that of the O’Flaherty Lords of Iar Connaught, following their initial deportation across the Corrib in 1051. In addition, c.1200CE, the new diocese at Annaghdown, under the control of an O’Flaherty bishop, was exerting an increasing temporal as well as ecclesiastical control of the Clan Fergail túath. This association is manifest when in 1230CE or so the O’Hallorans established a “daughter-house” Convent of the Arrosian-Premonstratensian Abbey-Convent of Annaghadown in the Claddagh, the fishing village on the opposite western bank of the river to Gaillimh. The convent was known as St Mary of-the-Hill and its site is occupied by the Dominican Church today.

Following the defeat of the O’Flahertys by the Anglo-Norman de Burgo’s in the 1230s the O’Flahertys and O’Hallorans were dispossessed of most of their remaining territory and land-holdings close to Galway and the Corrib and were further displaced further and further westwards and north-westwards to the most remote parts of Connemara. The O’Hallorans did manage to hold onto their main castle at Bearna close to the city and also a townhouse in the emerging walled city.  Despite further conflict with the de Burgos in 1248, to a great extent, until the Composition or Shiring of Connacht in 1585, the O’Flahertys and O’Halloran’s were left to control their own destinies.

By the early years of the 16th century the O’Flahertys had built a string of defensive castles at Aughnanure, Ballinahinch, Doon, Moycullen and Bunowen to control their territories in Iar Connacht. Complimenting their liege-lords the O’Hallorans had, in addition to holding on to their main stronghold on Rusheen Bay near Bearna, had also built the O’Hery castle on Lough Lonan (Lake Ross) near Moycullen and Renvyle Castle on the Renvyle peninsula. The O’Hery castle was taken from the O’Hallorans by the O’Flahertys in the 1580s.

In 1594 following the Composition of Connacht Dermoid McShane O’Halloran of Bearna castle transferred his title to the Castle of Renvyle and most of his property in the adjoining townlands of Ardnagivagh and Tulaghmore to his cousin Edmund O’Halloran a merchant of Galway.

Between 1606 and 1638 Dermoid and Edmund O’Halloran’s heirs sold Renvyle Castle and the remaining O’Halloran lands surrounding Clegan to the O’Flahertys. With their western holdings disposed of to the O’Flaherty’s the remaining O’Halloran possessions closer to Galway were soon to be lost to another, and newer, powerful mercantile family, the Lynches. In November 1638 Stephen Lynch obtained the title in the Court of Chancery to the O’Halloran castles of Bearna and O’Hery in Lough Lonan for £410 19s 8d. in lieu of a debt owed to him by Edmond O’Halloran.

This initial Lynch possession was short lived. In 1652 the Cromwellian Act of Settlement confiscated the Lynch lands of Bearna and Moycullen and granted them to John Whaley, one of Cromwell’s officers. However, in January 1681, following the Restoration Explanation Act of 1665, Nicholas fitz-Marcus Lynch of Bearna was able to buy back the large estate from Whaley for £644 13s 9d and he then sold on a small portion of it (lands in present day Poolnaroma and Knocknacarragh) to Finian Halloran for £83 4s 2d. Finian Halloran subsequently leased out the lands to a William Brock of Clare for 31years.

The O’Halloran legacy of the Connachta tribal federation conquering of Connacht in the 5th Century and the establishment of the Clan Fergail in the 8th Century was by 1700CE well and truly diminished although the territorial legacy of the Clan Fergail túath was to be maintained in the future development of the Town and the County of the Town of Galway.

Following his deposition in 1167CE as King of Leinster, by Rory O’Conor the High King of Ireland, Diarmaid Mac Murrogh asked Henry II of England for help in recovering his Kingship and in 1169 a group of Anglo-Norman mercenaries landed in Ireland to help MacMurrogh. In 1171, following MacMurrogh’s death Henry II organised a more formal invasion and the Anglo-Norman appropriation of Ireland began in earnest.

In 1185CE Henry II dispatched his son, Prince John to Ireland as a potential King of Ireland (a move blocked by the Pope) to exert Royal authority over the earlier wave of Barons. He landed with 300 knights and a team of administrators and was accompanied on this expedition by a knight from Norfolk, a William Fitz-Andelem deBurgh (deBurgo). Following John’s inglorious departure deBurgo decided to stay and make his fortune in the country. John’s personal behaviour on that first expedition had further alienated many of the already established 1169 Anglo-Norman arrivals from Crown authority and he had to return again in 1210 as King to crush a revolt by these Barons. William’s younger brother Hubert deBurgo also later entered King John’s service and rose to become Earl of Kent and Justiciar (equivalent to Prime Minister today) of England in 1215CE.

 In a very short space of time, with King John’s patronage, the deBurgo family had gained prominence in both England and Ireland. In 1195CE William deBurgo was granted lands, by King John, in Limerick and Tipperary. He promptly married the daughter of the O’Brien King of Munster and was able to use the bitter enmity of the O’Brien’s and O’Conor dynasty of Connacht to pursue speculative forays into the province. A further opportunity arose when Cathal Crobhderg O’Connor invited William to help supress a succession revolt within his own family in 1201CE. This was initially successful, but with help from an O’Flaherty (who else?) William plotted to assassinate O’Conor. The plot was discovered any many of deBurgo’s retinue were killed in a pitched battle by the O’Conor forces. The following year however William returned, took revenge for the previous defeat and began to style himself Lord of Connacht. Henry II had originally granted deBurgo title to the Province but then withdrew it because he was uncertain whether he could control the outcome. William died in 1205CE, probably from leprosy.

In 1215CE King John granted William’s son Richard Mór de Burgo, and his heirs, the Kingdom of Connacht and this edict was confirmed by Henry III in 1218, with the provisio that it was not to take effect until the death of Cathal Crobhdearg O’Connor. Cathal died in 1223 and was succeeded, after yet another internecine dispute with Cathal’s brother Turlough, by his son Aedh (Hugh) MacCathal O’Conor. Aedh was subsequently assassinated by Geoffrey de Maurisco and Turlough O’Connor, brother of Cathal Crobhdearg restored to the throne.

In 1226CE, with the help of his uncle Hubert who remained Justiciar of England under Henry III, Richard Mór de Burgo was appointed Justiciar of Ireland and promptly went about deposing Turlough O’Conor from the Kingdom of Connacht and installing Fedhlim O’Conor, another brother of Cathal Crobhdearg, instead. Fedhlim was not a puppet to the deBurgo’s however and set about resisting their attempts to take over the province. In 123oCE Hugh O’Flaherty, the Lord of Iar Connacht and Governor of Gaillimh declared himself in favour of Fedhlim’s resistance and fortified himself in the castle of Dún Bhun na Gaillimh. Richard Mór deBurgo promptly besieged the castle but the siege was lifted after a relief force from another Aedh O’Conor (Feidhlim’s son) arrived. In 1232CE however deBurgo rallied, reinvaded Connacht, defeated Feidhlim, took him prisoner, and deposed him from the Kingship of Connacht. Richard Mór took the Castle of Galway after a short siege and immediately set about improving and extending its structure. After a brief interlude, when an escaped Fedhlim retook the castle, the de Burgo’s were to hold sway.

With Galway and their southern flank protected the deBurgos then set about appropriating the land to the east side of Lakes Corrib and Mask, planting settler families and building a string of defensive castles. In 1235CE Richard Mór deBurgo expelled the O’Conors from most of Connacht and also for the final time, the O’Flahertys from Maigh Seola and the islands on Lough Mask and Lough Orbsen (Corrib). Thereafter deBurgo styled himself 1st Lord of Connacht and the O’Flahertys concentrated their energies on Iar Connacht. Richard Mór deBurgo died in 1241CE and was succeeded by his son Walter, who subsequently was created 1st Earl of Ulster in 1264CE.

In 1271 Walter deBurgo died in the original (but extended and rebuilt on many occasions) O’Conor castle in Galway and was succeeded by his son Richard Óg deBurgo, the 2nd Earl of Ulster and known as the Red Earl. At that point the castle served as a residence, as well as a location for the Hundred’s court and toll collecting office. The tolls in 1270 amounted to about €900,000 in today’s value.

Richard Óg deBurgo, with great energy, set about expanding and fortifying the city and as part of this development he built what is now known as the Hall of the Red Earl, at one corner of the old castle, to serve as the administrative, customs and legal centre for both the city and the district, and separated from the residential remit of the castle. The new hall would become in effect Galway’s first Tholsel and was referred to that as such thereafter. 

Caught up as he was consolidating his power in the remainder of Connacht deBurgo knew he needed to attract mercantile families and administrators to his new city, not only to service and supply the planter families the deBurgos had settled in Clan Fergaile and the remainder of East Connacht, but particularly to maximise the flow of revenue into his coffers. The Normans wherever they went, England, Outremar, Sicily or Ireland loved land, loved bending and shaping laws to suit their own ends, but most of all loved money! As a necessity deBurgo went about attracting families such as the Lynches, Martins, Brownes, Kirwans etc to come and settle in the city. It was these early ‘town” families who, in later years, would come to supplant the deBurgos and who would become known collectively as the Tribes of Galway.

As a consequence of a Crusade he had mounted in 1270CE by 1275CE Edward I of England was in serious debt to the mercantile Bankers of Lombardy, and in particular the Ricciardi of Lucca. As a trade-off the Ricciardi were subsequently appointed by Edward to oversee all customs collection in his Kingdom, particularly those governing the wool trade. Although Edward I’s control of the deBurgos in Connacht was tenuous at most, this remit extended even to its furthest western shores.

In 1274CE a Thomas deLince (?Lynch – Hardiman is silent on whether deLince was the first Lynch) was appointed provost or portreve of Galway and in 1277 either a brother or cousin  William deLench (deLince/Lynch) was appointed the collector of customs for Galway, as agents for the Ricciardi bankers of Lombardy. William deLench had to hand over these tolls to the Ricciardi’s in Dublin. The arrangement between Edward I and the Ricciardi was to last until 1294CE but is remembered in name of Lombard Street in Galway.

Leaving aside the “central” tax on the wool trade that was handed over to the Ricciardi on behalf of Edward I, the economic value of Galway to the deBurgos as a commercial and administrative centre was obvious when one looks at the enquiry into the estate of Aveline, Walter deBurgo’s widow in 1283CE. At that stage she was personally deriving £130 per annum (equivalent today of about €4,200,000) from rents, concessions (the lease of the Hall of the Red Earl to the Hundred’s Court etc.) and tolls in the city. In 1303 CE, following the demise of the Ricciardi, a new standardised custom’s duty on all goods in and out of the city of 3d in the pound (1.25%) was introduced.
Beyond the immediate environs of the city events continued to unfold. In 1316CE the last Gaelic kingdoms to the west of the Shannon were all but extinguished as political and social entities when the deBurgos and deBerminghams annihilated the Gaelic army at Athenry killing many of the nobility including the last O’Conor King of the Uí Briúin, and the O’Kelly King of Uí Maine. It is notable when one looks at the Annals detailing the Gaelic nobility casualties in the battle that neither the O’Flahertys nor the O’Hallorans are mentioned. Wisely, it appears they had stayed away from this “final” defeat in their sanctuary of Iar Connacht, continuing to consolidate. Indeed the O’Hallorans, traders for ever, managed to hold onto their castle and lands in Barna, very close to the city until the 1600s and I suspect that it was because they had nominal title to the fishing village of the Claddagh (where they had built an Abbey for the Arroasian nuns), which controlled the Salt Water fishing trade and the supply of fish to deBurgo’s “new” Galway town.

For five thousand years tolls have been a feature of mercantile adventure and profit. From the baggage trains bringing Lapis Lazuli from one small valley in present-day north-eastern Afghanistan across the toll-controlled rivers and canals of Mesopotamia (paying a specific toll tax called the “burden”) and the Frankincense trade from south-eastern Arabia (paying tolls at every camel-halt from Ubar to Gaza) to faience and fumigate the deaths of Pharaohs to the Value Added Tax of most of today’s economies merchants have paid those tolls, calculating the cost into their profit margins.

The Greek word for a toll, telos means both an “end” and “tax” (thereby satisfying Daniel Defoe’s idiomatic words “Things as certain as Death and Taxes, can be more firmly believed” in his book The Political History of the Devil in 1726.

A telonion was a Greek toll-house and there was a well-established legal principal of exemption from custom duties known as ateleia, an exemption that was later to feature strongly in the medieval control of toll collection. The later Roman teloneum derives directly from the Greek and as soon as the opportunity for trade offered by the expansion of the Roman Empire under Caesar Augustus arose, many teloneum or toll stations were established in designated customs jurisdictional areas, particularly during the time of the Pax Romano between 70 and 190ce. The main toloneum in the larger provincial towns and cities (caput) and ports came under the control of the procurator in the West or the comes commerciorum in the East and would be housed in the preatorium building, which would also then house the combined administrative and judicial functions with the collection of mercantile tolls. The high Alpine passes had their own poll-stations called clusae.

The close proximity of the Roman empire to both Celtic tribes such as the Belgae and the North Germanic tribes of Jutes, Angles and Saxons in what is now Denmark and Schleswig-Holstein meant the adoption of many Roman institutions of governance. In Saxon lands the teloneum evolved into the Tol-sael, from Tol for Toll and saele for hall.

Around 449 ce the Jutes, Angles and Saxons migrated into the vacuum created by the Romans retreating from Britain and Tolsaels were established in the Saxon coastal and esturine wics or emporia (Lundonwic, Gippeswic-Ipswich, Eorforwic-York etc) to service and tax the merchants and also to serve as judicial and administrative centres for the developing towns by incorporating initially the folk-mootes but later the more formalised Hundred and Shire courts.

In later Anglo-Norman England, especially after the separation of Church and State functions of the courts with the 1073 Writ of William I Concerning Spiritual and Temporal Courts the Tolsaels became the Tolbuthes or later Tolbooths of Scotland and the Tolseys of England. The most famous and long-lived of the Tolsey courts were those at Bristol (confirmed by a Charter of Edward III in 1373) and Gloucester.

In 1325 Glastonbury had a hall for holding tourns and courts, under which was a gaol for holding prisoners and five shops paying an annual rent of 30 shillings and a little shop or stall (tolsey) paying 6 pennies for receiving tolls at the time of fairs, a true reflection of the evolved combined mercantile, judicial and gaol function of the Tolsey.

With the arrival of the Vikings and later Normans the Tolsael hall that combined mercantile, administrative, judicial and gaoler functions became known in Ireland as the Tholsel. The Tholsel on the corner of Nicholas St. (now Christchurch place) in Dublin was called the ‘new’ one in 1311 the original having been probably erected shortly after 1171 (Henry II had granted Dublin to the ‘men’ of Bristol in 1164) when the Welsh Norman invasion under Strongbow, The Earl of Pembroke took the city. Later in 1343 there was a specific charter of Edward III granting exemption from the portion of tolls due to the King so that the burghers could repair the Tholsel and in 1395 a Geradus Van Raes was appointed keeper of the Dublin Tholsel for life. He was granted the keep of both the upper and lower gaol in that tholsel indicating an expansion in the imprisonment requirements.

Inquisition post-mortem of possessions of William deBurgo, Third earl of Ulster. (quoted in Hardiman’s History page55)


Daly D. 2004b Courthouse Lane (97E82): Excavation. In Archeological Investigations in Galway City, 1987-1998. Fitzpatrick E, Walsh P, O’Brien M, eds. Wordwell Ltd., Bray.

DERHAM RJ. The Galway Tholsel 1232-2015: A perambulation through 800 years of evolution and revolution.

DERHAM RJ Rihla (Journey 46); Partry House, Co. Mayo, Ireland – The Lynches of Mayo and Mesopotamia


Hardiman J. The History of the Town and County of the Town of Galway. Dublin. 1820

Hartnett AM. Legitimisation and Dissent: Colonialism, Consumption, and the Search for Distinction in Galway, CA. 1250-1691. PhD Thesis. Univ. Chicago. 2010

Middleton N. Early medieval port customs, tolls and controls of foreign trade. Early Medieval Europe 2005 13 (4) 313-358

McNulty PB. Genealogy of the Anglo-Norman Lynches who settled in Galway. 2010 J Galway Arch Hist Soc 62, 30-50

O’Flaherty R. West or Iar-Connaught. Ed. J Hardiman. Dublin. 1846

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