The Descendants of Niall
April / May 2006
Are you related to Niall of the Nine Hostages?
In a recent study by geneticist Daniel Bradley and his colleagues at the Smurfit Institute of Genetics at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, which was reported in the February issue of the American Journal of Human Genetics, it is suggested that at least one in every 12 Irishmen worldwide and one in every five in the northwest of Ireland could be descendants of Niall, who on becoming High King in 377 AD, established a dynasty of powerful chieftains that dominated the island for some six centuries.
Modern surnames tracing their ancestry back to Niall include (O’)Neill, (O’)Gallagher, (O’)Boyle, (O’)Doherty, O’Donnell, Connor, Cannon, Bradley, O’Reilly, Flynn, (Mc)Kee, Campbell, Devlin, Donnelly, Egan, Gormley, Hynes, McCaul, McGovern, McLoughlin, McManus, McMenamin, Molloy, O’Kane, O’Rourke and Quinn.
Niall of the Nine Hostages got his name by taking nine key hostages, including Saint Patrick, in raids on his opponent chieftains in Ireland, Britain and France to cement his power. A near mythical figure, he is said to have had 12 sons and to have been slain in the English Channel or in Scotland. His descendants, known as the Ui Neill, were the most powerful rulers of Ireland and maintained their dynasty until the 11th century.
According to Brian McEvoy, one of the team at Trinity, scientists found an area in northwest Ireland where they claim 21.5 percent carry Niall’s genetic fingerprint. This area was the main powerbase of the Ui Neills, which literally translated means “descendants of Niall.” The Y chromosome appeared to trace back to one person.
“There are certain surnames that seem to have come from Ui Neill,” McEvoy said. “We studied if there was any association between those surnames and the genetic profile. It is his (Niall’s) family.”
The study also says that Niall “resided at the cusp of mythology and history, but our results do seem to confirm the existence of a single early medieval progenitor to the most powerful and enduring Irish dynasty.”
In addition, the study goes on to say that the chromosome has also been found in 16.7 percent of men in western and central Scotland and has turned up in multiple North American population samples, including in two percent of EuropeanAmerican New Yorkers. “Given historically high rates of Irish emigration to North America and other parts of the world, it seems likely that the number of descendants worldwide runs to perhaps two to three million males,” the study says.
The study suggests a link between powerful men and a strong genetic legacy, as more powerful men would have commanded access to more women, and the siring of offspring was related to power and prestige. One of the O’Neill dynasty chieftains, Turlough O’Donnell, who died in 1423, is said to have had 18 sons with nearly a dozen women and claimed 59 grandsons.
Family Tree DNA (www.familytreedna.com) has posted a special page on its website for customers to compare DNA marker results with those of Niall of the Nine Hostages Visit: http://www.familytreedna.com/matchnialltest.html
For additional information or answers to specific questions, contact: [email protected] or call 713-828-1438. ♦