Monday, 14 April 2008

Ulster Heritage DNA Project News April 2008

As the Ulster Heritage DNA Project grows it continues to uncover fascinating details into the history of many of Ireland’s leading families. Often this is from following the paternal descent of a family, but also, there are clan and dynastic groups that are appearing as the results are gathered. The UHDP has also announced they are to add mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) which will allow families to research their maternal lines.

Dál Riada Haplogroup:

Over the last two years as the results come into the UHDP a collection of DNA matches appeared which some researchers call the Dál Riada group, so called because the men in the group have ancestors that are from the historical kingdom of Dal Riada, i.e. from the Bann Valley east to the sea and then south to Belfast and then mid Argyll around the historical capital of Dal Riada, Dunadd in Kilmichael Glassary.

Dunseverick in north Antrim, capital of Irish Dál Riada

The Irish of Dál Riada colonized Argyll in the 5th and 6th Centuries and this Irish kingdom existed both in northeast Ulster and mid Argyll for several centuries. The kingdom reached its height under Áedán Mac Gabráin (anno domini 574-608). The Dal Riadians were called the Scotti in Latin from which the word ‘Scot’ is derived. But to totally confuse the uninitiated into Ulster history, the Latin word Scotti means Irishmen. The shifting nature of the nomenclature used to describe these Gaels is complex and probably has started more than a few heated arguments, but at least the DNA testing is allowing us to better understand them as a group.

Another interesting aspect of the Dal Riada haplogroup (DNA signature) is they appear to have distant links to an area in northwest Spain associated with the Austure. The Austure were a Q-Celtic speaking tribal group in what is now modern Asturias west into Galicia to the sea and then south into the mountains in northern Portugal.

Dunadd, capital of Dál Riada in mid Argyll

Was the Dal Riada group the movers and shakers in east Ulster and did they lead the Irish colonisation of what is now Scotland? Was this Dál Riada dynasty the rivals to the Niall of the Nine Hostages dynasty? The Dal Riada group outnumbers the Niall of the Nine Hostages haplogroup by more than two to one in the UHDP results. This probably reflects participation in the project by a large percentage of men whose ancestors are from east of the Bann, but still given the Ulster wide scope of the UHDP, it is an impressive statistic.

Ulster mtDNA Project:

For several months now the UHDP has wanted to open the project up to people wishing to research their maternal lines. The UHDP was set up to study surnames and uses Y-chromosome tests, for this reason they are open only to men. The Y-chromosome is only passed from father to son making it the perfect tool to research surnames. Mitochondrial DNA testing is more complex and more expensive, but will help those who are interested in tracking their maternal lines. The mtDNA tests are getting better and more affordable and the UHDP agreed it was time to add this test to the project.

Ulster Clans and Families:

Among the Irish clans participating in the UHDP, the Ó Catháin clan results are perhaps the most dynamic. They are, just as their history says, from the Niall of the Nine Hostages group and several of the septs that the seanachaithe say descend from the Ó Catháin line, such as the McHenry family of Ballyrashane, are indeed a DNA match to the Ó Catháin men. To date every Ó Catháin man from the Dungiven area has been a DNA match to the group. Details of one line located can not be given out for privacy concerns, but the UHDP does acknowledge the descendants of Manus Rua Ó Catháin of Dunseverick, the famous general under Montrose, have been located. Other clans and families that are having great success at locating their members via DNA testing the McGuires, McAmis, McCains, Henrys Elders, Hamiltons of Abercorn, and Wallaces to name a few.

Information on the UHDP, the Ulster Heritage mtDNA Project, and the Ulster Clans and families is located at:

Dunadd photo courtesy of

Barry R McCain

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