THE TRUE FATHER OF IRELAND ; Research by Geneticists at Trinity College Dublin Reveals That One in 12 Irishmen Are Descended from a Fifth-Century Warlord. as David McKittrick Reports, Science Has for Once Revealed the Man to Be More Impressive Than the Myth DNA and the Key to Our Ancestry
McKittrick, David, The Independent (London, England)
He was already a splendid quasi-mythi cal warrior who trailed clouds of ancient glory, bestriding Irish pre-history as one of the greatest of all the high kings of Ireland. But now Niall of the Nine Hostages has emerged as an even mightier man than previously supposed.
It looks as though he was literally one of the fathers of his nation - a man who, 1,500 years after his death, has up to three million living descendants in Ireland and elsewhere.
Scientific research has revealed that around one in 12 men in Ireland are de scended from Niall, while in the north west of the island - his stronghold - that figure rises to a staggering 20 per cent of the male population. More descendants of Niall are to be found in Scotland and in New York, reflecting Irish emigration patterns.
Niall of the Nine Hostages was a fifth-century warlord who took on the English, the Scots, the French and even the Ro mans, at the same time establishing a series of dynasties which lasted for centuries. Known for his marauding raids, it turns out that his appendage was even mightier than his sword.
He will now be viewed as a smaller-scale Irish version of Genghis Khan, who has been shown by similar research to be the ancestor of millions in Asia and Europe. Genghis's many millions mean he will remain number one in the progeny stakes but Niall's performance is al ready being hailed as formidable.
His family dominated the High King ship of Ireland, proudly describing them selves as the descendants of Niall - the U Neill - down through the centuries. Their extensive power lasted right up until the Elizabethan conquest in 1558-1603. Saint Columba is said to be his great-great grandson.
His legend was so potent that to this day many prominent Irish families boast of their lineage from him. Now the new research indicates that this is no empty claim. The science of genetics has now made a firm connection between a particular chromosome and the genes of families with a traditional link to Niall.
For once modern science has not de bunked an ancient myth - rather, its discovery of Niall's prodigious offspring has confirmed and enhanced what was once thought to be a dubious legend. In this case at least, the man has proved more impressive than the myth.
The research was conducted at the ge-netics department of Trinity College Dublin, by PhD student Laoise Moore and others in a team supervised by Dr Dan Bradley. Niall's lineage was exposed by a study of the Y-chromosome, an element of DNA which uniquely is passed down from father to son through the generations, and which can provide a specific genetic fingerprint.
The team was intrigued to find a strikingly high frequency of a particular type of Y-chromosome in the Irish population, with a peak in the north-west centred around Donegal, Londonderry and Tyrone. Ms Moore and the team, using a technique called "17-marker simple tandem repeat genetic analysis", found a significant link between those with the particular chromosome and those with surnames traditionally linked with the U Neill dynasties. These included familiar Irish names such as Gallaher, Boyle, Do-herty, O'Donnell, O'Connor, O'Kane and Quinn.
Dr Bradley explains: "We sampled 60 people with these names and found the strongest association was with them. Be fore this, everything was mythology, but now there does seem to have been a single male ancestor of this group of powerful dynasties. …