‘How Viking are you?’ might be a question you never thought to ask yourself, but new research into the genetic traits of the people of Ireland and Britain reveal that many of us have a lot more Nordic blood in us than we once thought.

Conducted by scientists from Trinity College Dublin (TCD), the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute at Cambridge, and University College London, the study mapped genetic similarities and differences between almost 1,000 Irish individuals and more than 6,000 from Britain and mainland Europe.

The surprising results showed that there are a total of 50 distinct genetic clusters within Ireland and Britain, representing groups of individuals with similar ancestries.

But Ireland in particular has been left with the genetic reminder of the extent of the Viking raids, showing previous estimates were quite wide of the mark.

“Previous research using Y-chromosome DNA showed little remaining signature of the Viking ages in the DNA of Irish people,” said Ross Byrne, lead author of the research.

“However, these older studies used less than 1pc of the available genetic information and focused only on signals that could be read through the paternal line, which may not tell the entire story. By examining the remaining genetic information, we have shown that there is indeed a small but noticeable legacy of Viking influence in Ireland.”

Effects of the plantations

The researchers also looked at Irish genetics in the context of Britain and found additional signals of migration between the two islands.

The findings revealed the enduring genetic impact of the plantations of Ireland in the 16th and 17th centuries and a long-standing close relationship between the peoples of Ulster and Scotland.

When the authors projected their combined Irish and British data, they found a stark similarity between genetics and the underlying geography on the islands.

Aside from revealing more about our ancient history, the results help us understand how genes can influence our risk of developing certain conditions and zero in on the genes that cause diseases.

The results follow similar research conducted with the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland that identified massive Celtic ‘sinks’ of ancestry, also to find clues that could reveal genetic conditions.

Colm Gorey

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