If you have Irish ancestry, you probably learned that from your parents, who learned it from their parents, who in turn, learned it from their parents… Okay, you get the idea.
The truth is there’s a lot more to being Irish than you think. Thanks to the hard work of scientists and DNA testing, we’re able to understand more about the genetic landscape of the Irish than ever before, including how historic kingdoms would have influenced populations on the island.
Think you know what being Irish means?
Take a look at these top 5 Irish ancestry surprises to see where you fit in—you may be shocked to know your family’s history!
1. The English Spare the Irish & Establish the Kingdom of Ireland
The English Conquest from 1540 – 1690 marked King Henry VIII’s reconquest of Ireland, a time when he forced Irish lords to surrender to the English crown. The English spared the Irish and in turn established the Kingdom of Ireland. At that time, Irish Catholics were unseated and replaced with Protestants. Britain’s self-government lasted until the 18th century.
During that time, intermingling occurred between the Irish and English. Therefore, British Isles will likely show up as a DNA ancestry result for anyone claiming Irish heritage. It is one of the most recent genetic commingling, and what most of us—who understand global history and migration patterns—would expect as a result.
However, what makes you Irish is a combination of English, and the following ancestry surprises, each one stretching back further than the civilization before it.
2. The Normans of Northern France Invade & Take Irish Land
The Normans invade Ireland in 1160 CE
In 1160 CE, the Normans, whose ethnic roots originated in the north of France, invaded the island of Ireland. During ths time period, slavery ended and feudalism—a social system of land ownership and duties—began. The Norman invasion caused Native Irish to lose most of their land, all the way up until the 14th century, when they began to win it back.
If you’re Irish, and your DNA ancestry results show French origins, then it’s likely your ancestors intermixed with the visiting Normans. There are always exceptions, of course, but the genetic mixing of Irish and the French-rooted Normans was a pivotal event in Ireland’s history, a time when French DNA found its way into the Irish gene pool.
3. The Vikings Sell Irish Slaves at Dublin
The Vikings first invaded Ireland in 795 CE
Rome fell, Ireland converted to Christianity, and Vikings from Norway set their sights on Ireland around 800 CE. The word “Viking” has been largely misrepresented in recent history; Vikings didn’t wear horned helmets, and they weren’t raiding and pillaging all the time. Rather, they were a Germanic people settling in Scandinavia during the Viking Age. They spoke Old Norse and were farmers who became part-time warriors led by persons of noble birth.
During that time of Viking aggression, Vikings sold Irish slaves at Dublin. The Irish combatted that threat by forming kingdoms, thus holding the Vikings at bay.
The new “DNA Atlas” of Ireland offers the first genetic evidence that Vikings intermingled with ancient Irish peoples and would potentially show up on a DNA ancestry test as Norwegian, or German (as the Vikings who settled in Norway came from Germanic tribes). Historic kingdoms heavily influenced the populations on the island and genetic signatures from Norse Vikings were found all over Ireland.
4. The Romans Add Their Genes to the Mix
Around 400 CE, the Romans overtook Britain, thus adding their genetic material to the populations there. This event was not a direct conquest of the Romans over the Irish, but because the Romans conquered the English, and the English conquered Ireland in the 16th century, this is worth mentioning.
When we say Roman, the genetic result we are referring to is Italian. Romans were based in Italy’s capitol, Rome, so that’s the connection between them and modern-day Italians. If you’re Irish and have Italian roots as well, it’s likely that your ancestors intermingled with the English that eventually went on to invade Ireland.
5. The Gaels/Celts Drastically Change Ireland’s Gene Pool
Perhaps the greatest shift in the DNA of Irish people happened between 500 BCE and 400 CE with the Gaels/Celts. These populations had Germanic roots, so it makes sense that the modern-day Irish would also have German ancestry.
We know that the Gaels/Celts brought tools and metallurgy and changed the DNA significantly, but beyond that we don’t know too much as there is an absence of written records before 400 CE. Here are a few more things we do know:
- 2500 BCE to 500 BCE: the “Bell Beaker” culture shows a significant migration of people throughout Europe
- 8000 BCE: At the end of the Ice Age, early Irish spread across the island
- 12,000 BCE: First humans arrive in Ireland (near the end of the last Ice Age)
Irish People Have a Unique Mix of Ancestry
Invasions and cultural exchanges have led to a unique genetic blend in Ireland. If you’re Irish, you could have any of these other groups in your DNA:
- Post-Ice Age Explorers
- Bell-Beaker-Culture Peoples
- Gaels/Celts (German)
- Roman (Italian)
- Vikings (Norwegian/Germanic)
As of the 2016 US Census, 30 million Americans claimed to have Irish heritage, while only 24 million Americans claimed to have English roots. The Irish DNA Atlas study helps us discover even more about Ireland’s history and pivotal admixture events. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the study data allows us to put numbers to the genetic structure and distribution across Ireland and its peoples.
Here is an infographic to help you visualize Ireland’s genetic roadmap through time:
Ireland’s ancestry roadmap is a complex one, much like yours. With DNA testing, you finally have a window into your past. That’s because your unique code goes beyond your ancestor’s oceanic pilgrimages. DNA stands the test of time.
Discover Where Your Ancestors Came From
Ancestry DNA can tell you what regions your ancestors came from and which traits are specific to only you. By comparing DNA samples from all over the world, you can zero in on your family’s past, learning where they migrated from, when they moved locations, along with other migration patterns.
You are here today because your ancestors, my ancestors, all of our ancestors—conquered unbeatable odds (literally, drought, famine, and the Ice Age could have wiped humans out), so they could pass their genes on to subsequent generations… to us.