Little is known about Galway before the 12th century. Galway first appears in recorded history as the place where Toirdhealbhach Ó Conchobhair, king of Connacht erected a fortification at Bun Gaillimhe (the mouth of the River Galway).
In 1169-70 Anglo-Norman settlers from Britain arrived in Ireland. They made their first claim on Connacht in 1196 when a grant of the province was made to William de Burgo. In 1230, William’s son, Richard de Burgo fought with Gaelic Irish at Galway but was forced to withdraw. De Burgo returned in 1232 and built the first stone castle. By 1235, Richard de Burgo had conquered the entire province of Connacht. Richard’s son Walter (who died in the castle at Galway in 1271) is credited with establishing the walled town at Galway having granted the citizens their first mural charter c. 1270, which allowed them the right to levy tolls on goods to finance the building of the town walls.
Throughout the 15th to 17th centuries, fourteen families, later known as the ‘Tribes’ prospered through trade with Europe and beyond and played an important role in the development of Galway town by commissioning public and religious buildings, building many grand houses and involvement in all aspects of society from the governance and administration of the town to church affairs.
Galway’s and the Tribes’ prosperity ended with the Cromwellian siege and occupation in 1652. Many of the families were ousted from the town. When Charles II was restored to the throne in 1660 he ordered the re-instatement of property to those who had surrendered in 1652. Some of the old families did return and resume trading. The town declined following its surrender in 1651, again in 1691, and the implementation of the Penal Laws. Under new Protestant rulers and subject to increased taxation, many merchants resorted to smuggling. This decline was not reversed significantly until the 19thcentury with the emerging industrial revolution.