15 June 2019
Lynch’s Castle recalls
a ruling family among
the 14 ‘Tribes of Galway’
During our family walk-around Galway earlier this week, we stopped twice to admire Lynch’s Castle on the corner of Shop Street and Upper Abbeygate Street in Galway, a striking example of a castellated and fortified mediaeval townhouse.
The castle is four storeys high with embellished carved windows, gargoyles and ornamental mouldings and cornices. It was built by the Lynch family, one of the ‘14 tribes’ or ruling families of Galway, and parts of the castle may date back to the 14th century, although the bulk of it was built in the 16th century.
The 14 ‘Tribes of Galway’ were the Athy, Blake, Bodkin, Browne, D’Arcy, Deane, ffont, ffrench, Joyce, Kirwan, Lynch, Martin, Morris and Skerritt families.
The Lynch family features prominently in the history of Galway. Members of the Lynch family held the position of Mayor of Galway on 84 occasions between 1484 and 1654, and there are many monuments to members of the Lynch family in the Lynch Chapel in Saint Nicholas’ Collegiate Church.
Dominick Lynch FitzJohn, commonly called Dominick Dubh, procured a royal charter for Galway from Richard III in 1484, giving it city status and the right to elect a mayor. His brother, Pierce Lynch, who was elected the first Mayor of Galway and Dominick Lynch was the second mayor. His son, Stephen Lynch, received the Papal Bull from Innocent VIII that established Galway as an autonomous ecclesiastical jurisdiction under the Warden of Galway.
Lynch’s Castle was first built of limestone blocks as a townhouse in the 1300s. However, most of the original building has been replaced, and what is seen today dates back about 400 or 500 years. The profusion of highly elaborate carving on the walls and at the windows in Lynch’s Castle is very rare in Ireland.
The eye-catching features on Lynch’s Castle include the coat of arms of the Lynch family and the coats of arms of King Henry VII and the FitzGeralds of Kildare. The gargoyles keeping watch over the castle function as waterspouts to redirect runoff rainwater from the roof. Spanish decorative motifs can be seen on the stones.
A carved panel on the first floor at the front has a decoratively carved chamfered frame, with shields to inner chamfer. It bears the royal coat of arms of King Henry VII (1485-1509). The Latin inscription in Gothic letters reads ‘Long live the King of England, France and Lord of Ireland.’
The frame is surmounted by a carved finial, and below is a carving of an ape holding a child in his paws, representing a legend associated with the FitzGerald family, Earls of Kildare.
There are carved round limestone panels on the front and side elevation, between the middle floors. The panel facing Shop Street shows the Lynch coat of arms with a carved lion below that has a human face, and black letter script beneath. A similarly carved coat of arms on the side elevation represents the FitzGerald family of Kildare, and it has a similarly carved lion below, with a black letter inscription on the stonework below the lion.
The main walls of the building may have been completely refaced, and many of the square-headed window openings repositioned or their lower halves remodelled, with evidence of only two original openings on the side wall.
There is a blocked, incomplete two-over-two light mullioned and transomed window between the top floors of the front elevation, with cusped ogee heads, decorated spandrels, moulded mullion and surrounds, a moulded label with a decoratively carved soffit and decoratively carved stops with vegetal panels below.
A blocked single-light window on the side elevation has a cusped ogee head, decorated spandrels, a moulded chamfered surround and a moulded label. Other original window openings have similar labels and decoratively carved stops, and other features include arrow-loops on the east corner, and corbel supports of machicolation at the side, and a garderobe chute at the north-east corner.
A large extension was added in 1808. The building was originally of five storeys, but the floor levels were changed ca 1820, when the present late Georgian windows were inserted.
Some indication of the original floor levels can be gained from the surviving loops at the corner of the building and the blocked windows between the floors.
Lynch’s Castle was bought by the Munster and Leinster Bank – later Allied Irish Banks – in 1930. The bank restored the castle in 1933, and cut limestone arcade-like treatment was inserted on the ground floor. This includes two round-headed doorways, the main doorway has a block-and-start surround, engaged columns with decoratively carved bands, ornately carved capitals, hood-moulding with carved stops depicting human faces.
There are round-headed windows with single openings flanking the main door and a triple window on the south-west side of the other door.
Today, you can visit the ground floor during bank opening hours where panels explain the history and architecture of the building. Here a fine chimneypiece has a keystone that is carved with the IHS monogram, initials and the date 1629.
Work on Lynch’s Castle, involving specialised steam cleaning and the repair of one of the window boxes, was stalled in 2013 when damage to some of the key archaeological features was detected.
Local lore claims James Lynch FitzStephen, the Mayor of Galway in 1493, hanged his own son for the murder of a Spanish sailor.
On the fateful morning Walter Lynch was to be hung, the Mayor and bailiffs tried to escort him to the gallows. But a large crowd, sympathetic to the young man, had formed to prevent the hanging. So the Mayor, still holding his bound son, took him into their house nearby and on reaching an upper window overlooking the street, he fastened a rope around his son’s neck and launched young Lynch from the window, hanging him in full view of the ‘Lynch mob’ assembled below.
The Lynch Window on Market Street has a plaque the continues the legend.
Although other castles and townhouses associated with the 14 tribes survive – including Blake’s Castle, and houses or parts of houses and carved heraldic panels associated with the Kirwan, Martin, ffrench and other families – this remains the best preserved and most visible example of a high-status townhouse in Galway.