A little excess may be allowed to the average Irishman – regardless of the nationality currently proclaimed on his passport – on this, Saint Patrick’s Day. Therefore we quote from a recent genetic survey that indicates not just that a fair percentage of Australians and Americans are, in fact, Irish but indeed that a considerable number are directly descended from an Irish Royal Line!
Listen more kindly to the New York Irishmen who assure you that the blood of early Irish kings flows in their veins. At least 2 percent of the time, they are telling the truth, according to a new genetic survey.
The survey not only bolsters the bragging rights of some Irishmen claiming a proud heritage but also provides indicative evidence of the existence of Niall of the Nine Hostages, an Irish high king of the fifth century A.D. regarded till now by some historians as more legend than real.
The survey shows that 20 percent of men in northwestern Ireland carry a distinctive genetic signature on their Y chromosomes, possibly inherited from Niall, who was said to have had numerous sons, or some other leader in a position to have had many descendants.
About one in 50 New Yorkers of European origin – including men with names like O’Connor, Flynn, Egan, Hynes, O’Reilly and Quinn – carry the genetic signature linked with Niall and northwestern
"I hope this means that I inherit a castle in
He said his father used to tell him that all the Quinn men were bald from wearing a crown. Clearly, he hadn’t met Patsy from Ardfreelin! Though my mate Terry was often alluded to disparagingly for his baldness by his late and much-lamented wife Rita! He however, proved king to her in her latter days especially!
In East Tyrone, where my people hail from, the surname Quinn, as often as not, is pronounced Queen. So I suppose we could say, ‘The Queen is KING!’
The report appears in the January issue of The American Journal of Human Genetics.
Dr. Bradley said he was as surprised at finding evidence that Niall existed as he would have been to learn that King Arthur had been real. Niall of the Nine Hostages was so named because in his early reign he consolidated his power by taking hostages from opposing royal families.
He estimated that two million to three million men worldwide carry the distinctive Y chromosome signature, which he named the I.M.H., for Irish modal haplotype. A haplotype is a set of genetic mutations.
If he was indeed the patriarch, Niall of the Nine Hostages would rank among the most prolific males in history, behind Genghis Khan, ancestor of 16 million men in Asia, but ahead of Giocangga, founder of
The writer and actor Malachy McCourt said he was not surprised, since every Irish person is related to a king.
"They didn’t mind who they slept with, and they had first dibs," he said. "It’s so boring. It’s not like the house of
He said Niall was, "a highwayman. He was a slave trader, nothing noble about him. He was a pirate."
The link between the Niall Y chromosome and social power, which would have enabled the king to leave many descendants, "stretches back to the fifth century, which is a long time in Western European terms," Dr. Bradley said.
Asked if he himself carried the Niall signature, Dr. Bradley said he did and was "quite pleased," even though tradition holds that Niall captured and enslaved St. Patrick, who brought Christianity to
Niall is said to have obtained hostages from each of the five provinces that then constituted
But historians have tended to view the Ui Neill as a political construct, doubting their genealogical claims of descent from Niall and even whether Niall existed at all.
When the Irish took surnames, however, around A.D. 1000, some chose names associated with the Ui Neill dynasties. Dr. Bradley tested Irishmen with Ui Neill surnames and found the I.M.H. signature was much more common among them than among Irishmen as a whole.
The men with Ui Neill surnames tested by Dr. Bradley included those with the names, in anglicized form, O’Gallagher, O’Boyle, O’Doherty, O’Donnell, O’Connor, Cannon, Bradley, O’Reilly, Flynn, McKee, Campbell, Devlin, Donnelly, Egan, Gormley, Hynes, McCaul, McGovern, McLoughlin, McManus, McMenamin, Molloy, O’Kane, O’Rourke and Quinn. (The prefix "O" is sometimes dropped.)
Dr. Katherine Simms, a Celtic historian at Trinity College who advised the geneticists and was a co-author of their report, said some historians had assumed that the common ancestor of the Ui Neill was "merely a mythical divine ancestor figure, imagined in order to explain the political links that existed between the dynasties themselves in the later period."
But Dr. Bradley’s findings, she said, "appear to confirm that the Ui Neill really did come from a common ancestor," and perhaps that the mythical narrative of Niall’s birth and ascent to kingship "had a genetic basis."
The earliest Irish genealogies, if true, must have been recorded in oral form for several generations, since writing did not become common in
Another Celtic expert, Dr. Catherine McKenna of Harvard University, said in an e-mail message that "historians will be sceptical about the notion that all of the Ui Neill descend from the ancestor who seems to be implied by the genetic evidence, or that this ancestor was Niall Noigiallach (Niall of the Nine Hostages) himself."
She said the number of Niall’s supposed sons grew from 4 to 14 as new dynasties achieved power and claimed descent from Niall. "The evidence for the Ui Neill as a political construct is strong enough that historians wouldn’t readily believe in the historical reality of Niall himself," she said.
Still, the new genetic evidence may convince historians that there was a common ancestor for at least one of the major branches of the Ui Neill, such as the Cenel nEogain, which lived in an area of northwest
I find the serious study of genetics fascinating.
The fact that some historians – and many foreigners of Irish descent – attempt to abuse proper scientific research for their own ends, or to propagate myths either from the past or more radically, from the present (e.g. descent from self-proclaimed Kings of millennia ago!), is a matter for mirth, rather than serious consideration.
It is, after all, just two weeks till April Fool’s Day!