Irishmen's ancient link to Europe traced via genes


James Meek Science correspondent

The Guardian, London, March 2000.


Men with Gaelic surnames in the far west of Ireland may be descendants of an ancient European people who inhabited the west of the continent up to 15,000 years ago, genetic researchers have found.

Similar genetic traits have been found in the Basque country and northern Scottish communities like Orkney,suggesting a western fringe of direct descendants of hunter-gatherers who, in other parts of Europe, fused with new stone ageb settles bringing the new technology of agriculture from the eastern Mediterranean.

Scientists from Trinity College in Dublin and Leicester University studied distinguishing markers in the Y-chromosomes - found only in males - of 221 Irishmen.

The results, published in the scientific journal Nature, show that western Irish men with Gaelic surnames come from families which have effectively been in the same place for up to 15,000, years.


The distinctive pattern of genetic markers, known as haplogroup 1, was found in 98.3% of Gaelic-named men in Connaught, the westernmost province of Ireland, and 94.6% in Munster. Fewer than two thirds of Irish men with English names, and a little more than half with Scottish, had the same genetic pattern.

Work by other genetic historians across Europe shows a steady falling away of the predominance of haplogroup 1 the further south and east they look, with few men in Greece and Turkey having the markers. But in the Basque country 89% of men have them.

The difference, researchers say,is best explained by the migration across Europe, over thousands of years,of neolithic farmers from the near east.