Martin Family History

(Extracted / Compiled by Tomás O’Cadhain, Olde Ireland –

From the very earliest times of which there is record fourteen families from amongst the English colonists — those of Athy, Blake, Bodkin, Browne, D’Arcy, Deane, Faunt, French, Joyce, Kirwan, Lynch, Martin, Morris, and Skerrett — attained a supremacy over the rest and formed a close oligarchy by which the town and its affairs were ruled. To a later age they became known as the Tribes of Galway. So closely were the tribes knit together by intermarriage that they formed as it were one great family, acknowledging kindred and affinity with one another wherever they might meet the world over. Tradition asserts that the progenitors of the tribes were Anglo-Norman knights, crusaders for the most part, who had come over in Strongbow’s following and pushed westwards across Ireland to this farthest outpost of civilisation. If that were so, they speedily beat their swords, if not into plough-shares, then into yardwands and other implements of commerce, and settled down into a race of energetic and successful merchant folk.

Thus it is affirmed of the Martins, with whom these pages are in large part concerned, that they descend from Sir Oliver Martyn, who held high command in Richard I.’s army, and having clung loyally to that monarch when evil fate befel him, was imprisoned with his royal master and died in the Austrian dungeon ere yet Blondel had come singing his rondels beneath its window — a story curiously confirmed by the finding of recent years, within one of the ancient fortress monasteries of Bohemia, of a manuscript wherein the name of the solitary attendant who accompanied Richard, when he endeavoured after his shipwreck to make his way in disguise across Europe, is given as Martin. The earliest mention of the family in the records of Galway, however, is when Joan de Sepishend, chief miller of the mills of Galway, upon the 2nd of June 1365, made over all her rights in the said mills to Thomas Martyn and his heirs, to hold as quietly and freely as she, her father and grandfather before her, had held them of the Lords Walter and Richard de Burgo, late Earls of Ulster and Lords of Connaught. A very valuable possession, no doubt, was the ownership in chief of the mills that turned in the rapid river sweeping past the walls of Galway, as is evidenced by another Thomas Martin, two hundred years later, a descendant, no doubt, of the former one of that name, being willing to have the site of the mills regranted to him on condition of his building a gate and fortification at the western end of the great bridge across the river. The inscription upon a stone inserted in a wall in Galway still records this fact, and the grant also bestowed the right of spearing salmon from the buttresses of the bridge, a right exercised almost within living memory by representatives of the family.

How the tribes won the ascendancy which they indubitably possessed is not altogether easy to understand, seeing that there were many others in the town — Coppingers, Berminghams, and so forth — who could boast the same Anglo-Norman blood, but who were styled non-tribes, and who were seemingly content to carry on their own trade and business, and to leave the management of public affairs to the tribes. The old records of Galway prove conclusively that from the days when the De Burgos still held sway and nominated the seneschals or portreeves to whom they delegated their authority, down to the ruthless suppression of the old Galway Corporation by Cromwell’s soldiers four hundred years later, the mayors and the twelve masters, or mayor’s peers, who composed the council, and who had mostly already filled the civic chair, the sheriffs and the representatives returned to the Irish Parliament, practically one and all bore tribal names. There are indeed but two mayors upon the long roll who were exceptions to this rule, and of those two one was Sir Thomas Rotheram, Governor of the fort without the walls and of the King’s soldiers who lay in it, who was appointed because in the year 1612 there was no man to be found within the walls who would take the oath of supremacy, or acknowledge that the King was head of the Church.

There seems to have been little or no resistance to a governance which, whilst drastic enough at times, was at others almost grandmotherly in its concern, not only for the morals, but also the manners of the people under its rule. Doubtless the citizens found that under that rule their little community prospered and throve exceedingly, so that in the year 1461 a mint was set up, and Edward IV., by letters patent, granted to one Jermyn Lynch the right to make “monies and coignes, and do all things that shall nede or long thereto” within the town of Galway, though such coins were not to exceed a groat, or four pence, in value.

The policy that inspired the tribes and council of Galway was the same that animated most guilds and corporations of that day, the determination, namely, to keep all advantages which their situation conferred upon them, or which their energies had acquired, for their own body-politic, and rigorously to exclude outsiders. Thus almost the earliest enactment upon the old statute-book of Galway runs: “That ne merchant, ne maryner, ne shipman shall not lade ne transport over the seas no unfremens’ goods, but only fremens’ upon paine to lesse the said goods and the just vallouer there of, and to forfayte one hundred shillings, the said goods and forfayts to be divided into three several parts, one part to be to the reparacions and building of the town walls and works, the second part to the reparacions of the church, and the third part to the officers for the time being,” which last provision was calculated to make the officials keen in hunting out breaches of the regulation.

The church referred to was the old collegiate church of St Nicholas, dedicated to that saint as the protector of mariners, and of those who do their business in the great waters. This statute is immediately followed by another which decreed that: “No manner dweller, of whatsoever degree he or they be of, shall not sell nor set no lande or tenement within the same town of Galway to no Irishman, without lycense of the Counsaille,” under similar penalties to be similarly expended. Another decree which throws a vivid light upon the conditions at that time prevailing, ordained that if any inhabitant of Galway in revenge for any “discord, variaunce, hattred, or ingerous — i.e., injurious, wordes or language spokin, movid or moshioned betwixte anny brother or neighboure of Galway,” should cause that neighbour and brother to be captured by any outlandish man or enemy of the inhabitants — whereby the surrounding Irish were meant — the individual at whose instigation the seizure had taken place, if it could be proved against him, should “ramsion and restore” the captive, and make good to him all loss and damage that he had sustained, whilst the rest of that evilly disposed person’s goods were to be forfeited to the prince and the officers for the time being.

The officials of Galway did indeed take good heed both of their own interests and their own dignity. For the behoof of “evill persons,” who we may presume were unwilling to render this unrewarded homage, it was decreed that upon Michaelmas Day, when the new mayor was installed, all the different estates of the town should escort him from the tholsel to his door, but that no man should enter unless he were bidden, and of one mayor, who died upon the morning of his inauguration, we are quaintly told, “It pleased God Almightie to call him out of this transitorie life to the everlastinge, and oute of the chiefe chaire of this town (whereof he was to take possession), unto a better and more glorious seat in heaven.”

Another by-law declared that the mayor and bailiffs and the warden of St Nicholas, the highest ecclesiastic dignitary within the town, should be served first with fish and flesh both at the market and at the shambles, and that after that it should be first come first served. By the “wholle assent of the Counsaille,” so we are told, it was determined that if any person should speak any “ingerous” or slanderous words or “cheke” to the mayor, he should forfeit a hundred shillings and his body be put in prison. A similar indulgence of temper towards a bailiff cost the offender half that sum, and cheek towards those who had previously filled the office of mayor or bailiff was punished by fines of 26s. 8d. and 13s. 4d. — two marks and one mark — respectively. Another statute “orderid, statutid, and established forever” that if any person, no matter what his degree might be, should disobey or break the arrestment of the mayor and his officers, he should pay two hundred shillings, to be divided as usual between the town works and the officers, and his body be put in the lowest prison, there to remain eight-and-forty hours.

Other edicts ordained that no boatman or “dryveman,” carman namely, should by sea or land draw or drink any merchant’s wine. Those who did so were to pay for filling up the butt, or hogshead, or pipe again. Every cooper was to give two tunhoops and three hoops for hogsheads or barrels for a penny. Carpenters and masons were not to have more than two pence a-day for their hire with meat and drink. The shearmen or cotteners, those who finished the native-woven cloth by clipping the nap from it, were to give five, six, or seven baunlac of frieze for two pence, and eight, nine, or ten baunlac for three pence. The baunlac or handle was an Irish measure of two feet in length, but whether these very varying prices were for different widths or qualities of cloth is not stated. A somewhat later law, however, forbade the weaving of frieze or linen of less than three-quarters of a yard in width.

The fishermen of Lough Corrib were to bring fish into the town three days a week, and to sell a hundred eels for two pence. Butter sellers were more stringently dealt with. “That no butter be sold above one penny the pound and no dearer, on pain to lose 12d., and his body to be put in prison that doth the contrary,” ran the regulation. Anyone who indulged in such idle games as quoits, or “horlinge of the littill balle” with hockey sticks, instead of acquiring useful skill with the longbow or crossbow, or in the flinging of spears and darts, was to be fined eight pence for each offence. Playing with “the greate foote balle” outside the walls was, however, an authorised pastime. If any were found playing cards, dice, tables, or other unlawful games for money, and more especially if such persons happened to be either apprentices or Irishmen, they were to forfeit the money they were playing for, and whoever had permitted the gambling to take place upon their premises was to be mulcted of twenty shillings.

For fear of fire it was strictly forbidden to roof any house with straw or thatch, or to burn or scorch corn in any house within the town. This was the ancient Irish method of ridding the corn of its outer husk, in preference to threshing it. One early regulation most sensibly interdicted the utterance of party cries, such as Crom-aboo or Butler-aboo in the streets. These were the war-shouts of the Fitzgeralds and Butlers, whose feuds were distracting Ireland at that time. Instead men were enjoined to call upon St George and the king. Weapons drawn in any quarrel or brawl were to be impounded and nailed up in the pillory, their owners to make good any hurt or harm that they had done. Every man was, however, to possess a “feansabull” — i.e., defensive — weapon of his own, and if he did not appear with it at one of the town gates immediately the cry or “skrymishe” was raised, he was to pay twelve pence.

Sundry of the old tribal regulations might with advantage have been enforced in Galway at a very much later date. Such were those which commanded every householder to clean the street in front of his house once a week, and forbade his placing his manure-heap there. Those who owned cows were directed to keep them at home in their own houses and not perambulating the streets. Pigs and goats might not be kept in the town above a fortnight, on pain of summary execution, the owners thereof to be responsible for any “hinderances” which they might have done. If anyone built the stairs to their house upon the public street, they were to be forthwith broken and “overthrown down,” staircases being at that time very generally made outside instead of within doors.

The by-laws against the Irish were numerous and stringent, and framed with a redundance of negatives and vagueness of grammar that but made them the more emphatic. None the less an occasional lapse into Irish, as when it was decreed “that no boucher shall take no cnaye goulle nor skeinglac — whereby the tripe and other internal delicacies were meant — oute of no cowe that he selleth,” or a gloss in that language to make the meaning of an edict more clear, reveal that Irish was at least as well understood within the walls as English. No man, however, might be a freeman of Galway unless he could speak English, and shaved his upper lip weekly, the heavy moustaches of the Irish being a mark that distinguished them from the English.

No Irishman might go on board any ship that came into the port, nor might any man belonging to the town lend or sell to an Irishman galley, boat, or barque, long, small, or great, nor any furniture or necessaries therefor, such as pitch, rosin, canvass, ropes, or iron, without the permission of the mayor and council, on pain of losing boat, barque, or stuff, and one hundred shillings in addition, no mean sum in those days. A similar penalty was decreed against those who should sell to the Irish, or to any persons suspected of rebellious intentions, any “invincions,” such as handguns, calivers, powder, lead, saltpetre, or even longbows, crossbows, bowstrings, or yarn to make the same, whilst the lending to an outlandish man of a shirt of mail, a “skoll” or helmet, or any other piece of armour, cost the offender twenty shillings. Anyone who brought an Irishman to brag or boast upon the town was to be fined twelve pence, and one most forcible rescript of the year 1518 decreed: “That no man of this town shall oste or receve into their houssis at Christemasse, Easter, nor no feaste elles enny of the Burkes, MacWillams, Kellies, nor no cepte elles, withoute license of the Mayor arid Counsaill for the time being, on payn to forfayt V li — five pounds — and that neather nor Mac shall strutte ne swaggere through the streets of Galway.”

This famous and often quoted resolution was, however, aimed quite as much at the De Burgos, who had by this time become Burkes and “Hibernis Ipsis Hiberniores,” as at the native-born Irish. The heads of the De Burgo clan had long previously shaken off their allegiance to the English Crown, and taken the Irish titles of Mac William Eighter and Mac William Oughter — meaning the Upper and the Lower, from the position of their territories in Galway and Mayo — from whom the Earls of Clanricard and Mayo respectively descend. They had also discarded English speech and apparel, so that we are told that the Mac William Oughter of 1575, who came into Galway to make his submission to the Lord-Deputy, Sir Henry Sidney, could speak Latin, but could not speak English.

Another statute, framed a year later than the one above quoted, in 1519 that is, prohibited an Irish judge or lawyer from pleading any man’s cause in the law-courts of Galway, “for it agreeth not with the King’s laws, nay yet the empror’s in many placis.” This last reference was of course to Charles V., with whose Spanish subjects, seeing the large trading interests involved, there was probably much litigation. The law expounded by Irish lawyers, and which did not agree with either king’s or emperor’s, would have been the Brehon law, for English laws were only in force within the Pale, and in the cities of Galway, Waterford, and one or two others.

This decree notwithstanding, when some dozen years later William Martin, merchant, claimed “saut,” or compensation, from the town for the slaughter of his father under circumstances not related, of the two arbitrators appointed to decide the matter one was MacEgan, a hereditary Brehon, or Irish jurist. By their decision William Martin was granted a reduction of three and four pence yearly in the rent of a tenement that he held from the town, in return for which he undertook to hold the town and commons of Galway quiet and clear for ever as regarded both saut and slaughter.

Instances occur upon the statute-book of Galway where the franchise was granted to Irishmen, but it was generally for some special and particular purpose. Thus it was granted to Richard Begge upon condition of his keeping an inn for the entertainment of strangers, and to Donell O’Nolan, a goldsmith of the town, at the request of his father-in-law, himself a freeman, who was old and impotent, and whom the said Donell undertook to maintain. Others, Hallorans, O’Dowans, O’Trehies, and so forth, gained their freedom by serving a seven-years’ apprenticeship to one of the merchants of the town. Inasmuch, however, as such indentures are carefully recorded upon the statute-book of Galway, where no mention whatever occurs of the innumerable apprenticeships that must have been entered into by the sons of the Anglo-Norman settlers, we may infer that such cases were rare, and were only permitted under peculiar conditions.

Sometimes, too, when the young citizen was enrolled after serving his time, a special reservation was made that the freedom was only to descend to his children in the event of his marrying a freewoman of the town.

The hospitable instincts of the Galway ladies manifestly caused the city fathers some concern, for, descending to more domestic matters, they solemnly enacted that no woman, be her degree what it might, who had occasion to celebrate the advent of a new arrival in her family, should keep “common bancks,” open house in other words, or make great expense as in times past, though she might invite any of her friends to visit her whilst she kept her chamber, and anyone who went “unpraied and unbidden” into such a house was to be fined six and eight pence.

Usurers and moneylenders have ever been unpopular with the rest of the community, and the devastating wars of the sixteenth century, wherein all Ireland had been laid waste, caused a cessation of trade and scarcity of money that must have been severely felt in Galway. The council wax absolutely incoherent in their wrath when denouncing the practices of the Shylocks of those days, who, we learn incidentally, were accustomed to take their exactions in kind. “Manye and sondery gredy, detestable and inordinatly gayns of levyng of intrestes and cambies* after the rate of a peacke of wheat or a good hyd for the mark by the yeare hath been reared and taken up by all such as lent money, both to the utter ruyne and decay of the publique wealth, and also clear forgettinge of all good concience, godly or neighbourly love, but rather in most contempte of hir Majestie’s laws, do by all cullorable practizes and decite under covert use the same.” The prices of the two commodities named varied so much from year to year that it is not possible to form any certain estimate of the rate of interest which called forth this outburst of righteous indignation.

* A usurer is still called a gombeen man in Ireland.

All their fatherly solicitude notwithstanding, the ordinances of the city council do not seem to have produced as good an effect as they desired, for when in 1584 Sir John Perrot, Lord-Deputy, the most able and most popular of Elizabeth’s lieutenants, visited Galway, that body took counsel with him concerning the many disorderly practices prevailing in the town, and under his advice framed a new series of by-laws, or rather of fulminations which censured most classes of the inhabitants. “That the young English tailours and ther boys be varagraunts,” ran the first of these pronouncements, “the most in the town using all unlawful pleis and lacivious expenses both by day and by night. That none be suffred to use any kind of unlawful games or plays to disceive and make the people ydle and shun to erne ther lyving by good and lawful means.” The next article continued in much the same strain. “That no young man, prentiz or otherwise, shall weare no gorgious apparel, ne silks, either within or without ther garments, ne yet fyne knit stockins either of silke or other costlie wise, weare no costlie long riffs thick and started, but be content with single riffs, and that also they shall weare no pantwofles — dainty and embroidered footgear — but be content with showse.”

The younger generation having been thus suitably admonished, the Council next turned their attention to the shopkeepers and working men. They found that the artificers in general, both craftsmen and common labourers, exacted far more for their work than the assize of the town permitted them, and that besides their demands in money they insisted on being given aquavita — whiskey no less — meat and drink, bread, broth, flesh, candles, flax, and many other things. The seamen and fishermen were peremptorily forbidden to take in hand plough, spade, or harrow, lest they should be tempted to forsake their proper calling, “to serve themselves and the common wealth with fyshe.” In compensation therefor it was, however, ordained that they, their wives and families, were to be served with all necessary sustenance and provisions that might come into the market before all others, to enable them the better to earn their living, and that they “might have the better hope.”

No working men were to wander or wag idly about the streets during working hours; if any special reason took them abroad, they must carry some tool or other token of their craft in their hand. Shoemakers and glovers were accused of not tanning their leather properly, nor selling their wares at market rates. They were exhorted to make good stuff in future and to dispose of it according to the market. The candlemakers were in even more parlous condition: they sold neither light nor sight, neither good tallow nor good thread, nor any good stuff at all for candles. The goldsmiths had seemingly made efforts to set their house in order without waiting for rebuke from the Council and Deputy, for qualified praise is bestowed upon them. “That the new statute made by the goldsmiths is commendable, so as they shall observe the same and mend their former faults.”

It was, however, upon the vendors of edible wares and liquid refreshment that the vials of the Council’s wrath were in chief measure outpoured. All the aquavita sold in the town might more fittingly be called aquamortis, they declared, for it was more likely to poison the people than to comfort them in any good sort, and the beer was no better, wherefore the officers whose business it was to look to such matters were enjoined to be more vigilant and inquisitive in future. There was no good bread made in the town, neither well made nor well baked, nor even as cheap as it should be.

The Council therefore recommended that men and women skilled in the baking of bread should be appointed, and that it be sold at market rates, as the officers should fix them. The keepers of eating-houses came in for a yet more sweeping indictment. “That no victillinge-house seller or shoppe, where any victaille, wyne or acquavita is, be not in any honest sort keapte cleane, wherin ther is neither sittinge-place, clothe, dish, nor any other service, which have great nede of reformation. That all the meate that is thoughte to be either sodde or roasted by the bowcherous cooks of this towne is not worth the eatinge, and therefore is not suffrable, which also hath nede of reformation, so as all to be cleane and retayiled by penny, halfpenny, farthing, and weare all ther cleane aprons, and that ther be no horns suffered wher the meate is adressing.”

No one probably would disapprove of the enactment that “accordinge thauncient statuts ” hogs were not to be fed upon the streets, and especially not within the market-place, nor yet with the one that followed, which forbade the drawing, or plucking of the wool off live sheep after the Irish manner, but ordered them to be shorn at the proper season.

These and other malpractices having been thus denounced, the Council turned once more to the social life of the town, and it was now the turn of the female portion of the community to receive reproof and admonition. It was ordained that, like the young men, they should wear “no gorgiouse apparell,” but such as became them according to their calling. With commendable reticence, however, the city fathers did not animadvert upon the ladies’ underwear, but confined themselves to strictures upon their millinery. They were commanded absolutely to forego the wearing of coloured hats and caps, and to content themselves with black ones, and even upon these there were to be no expensive hat or cap-bands, such as were made of gold thread. Perhaps it was a well-grounded fear of the reception likely to be accorded to them in their own homes which caused the worshipful councillors to add a clause to this mandate exempting the “may orasses” from compliance therewith.

This title comprehended not only the wife of the mayor, but also the wives of the “mayor’s peers,” as the twelve colleagues who composed his council were termed, who all therefore remained free to tire their heads as they pleased. It was further en- acted that no merchant’s wife should frequent any tavern or alehouse, on pain of forfeiting twenty shillings, toties quoties, every time, that she did the contrary, meaning presumably the same. “But let them be occupied in the making of cloth and linen,” said the Council magisterially. The previous injunction against excessive hospitality would seem to have failed of its effect, for a fresh order was issued forbidding porters, harpers, butchers, bakers, and more especially nurses, from going to any man’s house at festival times to demand offerings in money, food, or drink. With even-handed justice it was decreed that he to whom was given and he who gave should each lose a crown. If, however, any honest man’s wife had received an invitation to a banquet she might bring in her train one friend, who apparently had not been similarly honoured, but no more, otherwise she too must pay a crown.

The last regulation framed with Sir John Perrot’s assistance concerned the burial of the dead and the funeral customs of the Irish. It was commanded that “no woman shall make no open noise of an unreasonable chree, after the Irishrie, either before, ne yet after, the death of any corpes. We mean,” added the Council in explanation, “ther singing songs, songe to the praise of men, both dead and also alive, and not to God everlyvinge.”

A Martin may associate himself today with any clan that bears his name as a Sept or minor family. However, Clan Martin is not beholding to any chief and is its own Clan.