Researchers led by the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) and the Genealogical Society of Ireland have published The Irish DNA Atlas: Revealing Fine-Scale Population Structure and History within Ireland in the journal Scientific Reports .

The research provides the first fine-scale genetic map of Ireland, revealing the first evidence of 10 distinct genetic clusters on the island, which roughly align themselves with the country’s historic provinces and major historic movements of people.

The Irish DNA Atlas was compiled from DNA samples of almost 200 individuals with four generations of ancestry linked to specific areas across the island of Ireland.

These samples were then compared with thousands of samples from across Britain and Europe, revealing seven distinct clusters of ‘Gaelic’ Irish ancestry, and three of shared British-Irish ancestry.

Benefits to historians and genetic research

The RCSI’s Edmund Gilbert, first author on the paper, said of the findings: “Our work informs on Irish history; we have demonstrated that the structure emerging from genetic similarity within Ireland mirrors historical kingdoms of Ireland, and that Ireland acts as a sink of ‘Celtic’ ancestry.

“Additionally, we find evidence of a west-Norwegian-like ancestry that we believe is a signature of the Norse Vikings. We also observe the impact of historical events, such as the Ulster Plantations, on the DNA of the people of Ireland.”

The benefits to historians will be substantial, the team said, as we can now see the movements and interrelationships of our ancestor groups through their DNA.

This potentially opens up many new research opportunities, particularly for those researching the Irish medieval genealogies and the history of Irish clans.

From a medical perspective, the new map could have major implications for the study of common genetic diseases in Ireland.

It will be used by the new FutureNeuro Science Foundation Ireland research centre, which is seeking to improve the diagnosis of rare neurological disorders, and personalise treatment.

Colm Gorey

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