Ireland is a wee island sitting side by side with the British Isles and Europe. It is flanked to the East by the Irish Sea and to the West by the wild Atlantic Ocean, which offers a sure shot all the way to Canada and America.
As an ancient land, Ireland has seen dynamic and dramatic changes over the centuries. Here we offer some background information on Irish history and DNA, along with the top five countries that have influenced Irish genes. Read further still to see how you can test your own genes!
An overview of Ireland’s early settlers
The first evidence of settlers on the island dates back to 12,500 years ago. This is when the Ice Age would have just released its grip and the ice—which would have previously covered Ireland—would have melted away.
It is said that the first settlers to set foot on Irish soil—during what would be known as the pre-historic period—came on boats from Europe. A narrow channel that naturally formed between Ireland and Scotland at this time also ensured migration to the island.
Celts, who originated from the British Isles as well as mainland Europe (and Ireland), had a huge cultural impact on the Emerald Isle. As Ireland moved through the Stone Age into the Bronze and Iron Ages and up through the centuries, the island underwent massive change.
The first Norse Viking raids were in the 8th century on Iona, Rathlin Island, and Inishmurray; they dubbed themselves the “dark invaders” or “black foreigners”, this is the roots of the term “black Irish“. Viking presence in Ireland lasted up until 1169 and was punctuated by the Norman (a medieval ruling class from Britain that consisted of several nationalities) invasion.
The next major intrusion in Ireland was the Ulster Plantation in the 17th century, although the English had been ruling Irish lands for some time prior. The Ulster Plantation was an organised colonisation of Northern Ireland in which most colonists were of Scottish and British descent.
It is through these major events throughout history (amongst so many others) that Irish genes and DNA have been influenced.
In a recent study it was shown that to a large degree, there is little genetic variation in Irish people. Essentially, what this means is Irish people are “very Irish.”
Since Irish people take so much pride in being Irish, they will certainly rejoice in the test result that promises consistent Irish ancestry. However, that aside, there are five key influencers in Irish genes, across five different nationalities.
Based on the above information, it will not come as a surprise to see that the following countries have had the biggest impact on Irish genes.
1 – Spain
One of the top five countries that have influenced Irish genes is Spain. It is believed that the most likely first settlers on the island of Ireland were of Spanish nationality. It is also agreed that our native fauna (animal life) would have largely come from these ships, brought from mainland Europe.
It is said that today, the largest group of people sharing DNA with the Irish reside in the Basque Country in northern Spain.
2 – Scotland
A vast number of Irish people share Scottish genes. The reason for this is multi-faceted, the first being due to the channel of land that linked Ireland and Scotland, enabling mass migration. The second reason relates to the Ulster Plantation, during which many colonists were Scottish.
3 – England
England is unsurprisingly also one of the top countries that have influenced Irish genes. Welsh Similar to Scotland, the situation of being neighbours and having a very close and complicated relationship dating back generations has resulted in Irish people and English people sharing a lot of the same DNA.
The English have been present in Ireland since early settlements, and between that and colonizing Ireland in later centuries, their impact on Irish culture (such as the arrival of Saint Patrick) has borne great significance.
4 – Wales
DNA also bears great ties with Ireland, and many Irish people can trace their genetics and find Welsh roots. This, similar to the case with Scotland and England, is due to the erratic relationship between Ireland and the British Isles over the centuries.
5 – Norway
Due to the Viking invasion that began in the 8th century, Norwegian ancestry can be seen prominently in Irish DNA. Professor Gianpiero Cavalleri, who spearheaded a recent study on Irish genetics, explained the Viking’s influence on Irish genes.
“We see relatively high percentages of the Irish genome have Norwegian ancestry and specifically from Norwegian coastal areas. We already knew the history of this, but this is now objective scientific fact that there is Viking DNA in Ireland.”
How to test your genes
With all this said and done, should you wish to explore your ancestry, there are many ways to do so!
Traditional ways such as visiting a medical professional or specialist are still available; however, modern and easy-to-do methods such as online tests are now options.
A website called 23 and Me has received heaps of coverage in the media recently, as it provides seamless genetic breakdowns, global ancestry, and DNA reports, after the user provides a simple saliva swab.
In general, genetic tests can be performed by supplying a sample of hair, blood, skin (or other tissue), or saliva.