In the fifteenth century, the governance of Cork continued to be dominated by an oligarchy of wealthy merchant families. The wealth of these families derived mainly from the importation of goods, including grain, as the surrounding countryside was unable to provide sufficient food to support the inhabitants of the city, and the export of hides, furs and timber. Among the most prominent of these families were the Galweys, the Roches, the Tirrys, the Goulds, the Skiddys and others. Members of these families filled the civic offices of the city. An immense gulf in wealth and influence separated the merchant oligarchy from the artisans and guilds, which were virtually denied any say in the administration of the city.
The city itself, however, and its economic prosperity, continued to decline in the face of the resurgence of the Gaelic and Gaelicised nobility outside the city. The northern and southern suburbs of the city were abandoned in the early fifteenth century, except for the religious foundations there, and the Barry family occupied the manor of Shandon. Historians have surmised that at this period Kinsale was a more important and prosperous trading centre than Cork. The city shrank to the area enclosed by the walls, defended by the fortifications at the North and South Gate Bridges. The entrances to the city were closed during the hours of nightfall.
Near the end of the 15th century, Cork was visited by Perkin Warbeck who was a pretender to the throne of England and who was supported by the Mayor of Cork John Walters. Walters was later executed for supporting Warbeck.