Diggin’ in the Dirt: Niall (sausage the fifth)

In the final part of Blather.net’s in-depth investigation of the infamous fifth-century thug and womaniser, Niall of the Nine Hostages, our grave-robber in residence Ender Wiggan digs deeper into the genetic history of the indigenous Irish population in an effort to finally find out “who’s yo’ Daddy?”.
No really. Who *is* your daddy?

Where were we during our last sausage-fest? Tracing Irish genetic origins and the general consensus at the moment…
To see what condition our condition is in
Well we could start at a 2000 study from Trinity College;
Y-chromosome variation and Irish origins
where 221 Y-chromosomes from Irish males were partitioned by surname and significant differences in genetic frequency was noted between those of Irish Gaelic names and those of foreign origin (suggesting an influx of later gene flow across the linguistic barrier from historical migrant groups).
More importantly a difference was also noted between those of eastern and western Irish origin: such as a particularly ancient haplogroup (hg 1) which was found to have a very high frequency in Ireland (78.1% overall) with samples from Connaught, lying at the geographical and genetic extreme of a Europe-wide cline, showing 98.3%.
Compare that to the frequency in Turkish populations which is 1.8%.
Their findings suggest that hg 1 is the earlier, indigenous Irish variant, and shows remarkable homogeneity on a European level stretching back to an insular Mesolithic (Middle Stone Age) population.
Ordered Disorders
Another 2002 Irish based study;
The mutation spectrum of hyperphenylalaninaemia in the Republic of Ireland: the population history of the Irish revisited
looked at HPA mutations in the population of the Republic of Ireland, and investigated regional differences in the HPA mutation spectrum, looking at the influence of neighboring populations on the Irish gene pool.
Hyperphenylalaninaemia (HPA) is a group of inherited disorders involving abnormal development of the central nervous system. Phenylketonuria (PKU) is the most severe form of HPA. In that study, 386 PKU and HPA patients were screened for mutations at the human phenylalanine hydroxylase (PAH) locus.
They found genetic diversity between the four historic provinces (Munster, Leinster, Connacht and Ulster) in terms of demographic forces that shaped the Irish population.
They also found that the predominant Irish PAH mutation R408W, associated with haplotype 1.8, (A derivative of our friend Hg1!) reached its highest relative frequency in the most westerly province. (Connacht again!) Such frequency clines, if they do represent the genetic traces of the Paleolithic colonisation of Europe, indicate a pattern not substantially altered in northwestern Europe by subsequent Neolithic (New Stone Age) migrations.
Their results confirmed that Ulster has been a zone of considerable admixture between the Irish and Scottish populations, indicating a proportion of Scottish admixture in Ulster approaching 46%. Mutations primarily associated with Scandinavia accounted for 6.1% of mutations overall, illustrating the influence of Viking incursions (Particularly from North West Norway!) on Irish population history.
Also interestingly too, the authors seem to pay more credence to the possibilities of later admixture between Scotland and Ireland during the 17th century plantations. (Scots coming back TO Ulster after centuries of settlement FROM Ulster.)
(For a wider, further study of studies of this particular Mutation; see also the 2003 paper, Genetic Diversity Within the R408W Phenylketonuria Mutation Lineages in Europe
Iron Age Itinerants?
What came after that was another brilliant study from Trinity in 2004; The Longue Dure´e of Genetic Ancestry: Multiple Genetic Marker Systems and Celtic Origins on the Atlantic Facade of Europe
Which set out to Investigate the theories of Iron Age Celtic migrations from Central Europe; by studying female mitochondrial DNA (MtDNA), using a much higher sample set (Nearly 9000 individuals from Europe and the Near East, in 46 populations, including Ireland) and comparing the mtDNA variation with that in similar Y-chromosome studies.
Neither mtDNA nor Y-chromosome markers indicated a central European Iron Age origin for most Celtic populations of the Atlantic Fringe. The areas where Celtic languages are spoken, or formerly spoken, show great affinities with other regions in the Atlantic zone, from northern Spain to northern Britain. With multiple mtDNA links between Ireland and Britain, particularly Scotland, being ‘especially striking’.
These results agree with the available archaeological evidence for fifth and sixth century Irish colonies in western and southwestern Britain. Indeed, the very name ‘Scotti’, the Latin for ‘Irish’, came to be applied to the province of the Dal Riada, who settled practically all of modern day Scotland, following the period of political turmoil in Ulster during the Fifth and Sixth centuries.
Brought about by…who’d have thunk it?…those damn pesky Uí Néills.
Which is just about where the latest ‘Niall of the Nine Sausages…I mean Hostages’ study comes into the equation.
I know, I know…you’re head hurts. Are we going in circles? Not quite.
“Where the hell do we come from?”
Well, according to the last few years of genetic research into Irish genes…
We more or less come from…here. Exactly where we are now.
And we’ve been here for a very, very long time.
We seem to still have residual traces of the earliest Stone Age human population who first came here, following the retreat of the pack ice after the last Glacial Maximum (Otherwise, known as the Last Ice Age when it’s at home)
Our geographic position on the periphery of Europe, has ensured relative isolation throughout pre-history…or rather enough isolation, so as not to not be bothered too much by the Greeks, or the Romans or anyone else for that matter until the coming of the Norse. Leaving us pretty much undisturbed genetically, as to make it easy to trace back lineage, as well as backing up the archaeological evidence for subsequent large-scale population incursions.
You know, forty years ago nobody ever thought that you could date back faunal and human remains by radio carbon dating, not to mention its implications in multiple scientific disciplines. Thirty years ago, nobody would have believed what could be gleaned from the establishment of a coherent dendro-chronology (Tree Ring Dating) time-line. Twenty years ago, nobody would have believed that you could ever hope to gaze into the ground using computer geophysical surveying. Ten years ago, if you had told someone that one day, the human genome would be mapped, and a new form of excavation…the excavation of humankind itself, within our genes…would be re-writing the textbooks; they probably would have looked at you funny.
Filling in the Blanks (But not shooting them)
Just remember. It’s like any other kind of evidence…legal, historical, scientific, and archaeological. The beauty and reward for studying Early Irish source material, just like Early Irish genetic sequencing…is that it works on many different levels. Just as soon as you stop looking at the actual words or haplotypes…and start looking at where they are, how they’re written, the form and place, the style and sequence, the order and mutation, transmission and redistribution. From one generation to the next. It’s only by looking at the spaces, the voids and what’s been left out; that enables us to attempt to fill in the real blanks.
So while one in twelve of us, share a distinct tribal family legacy, at some stage in the fourth/fifth centuries, (by someone whose name probably wasn’t Niall)…it’s probably more then likely that the rest of us do as well, through some other un-named ancestor. It’s just that our founding fathers and mothers are (for the most part) older and much, much further back in time. Working the land for thousands of years, building megaliths and earthworks and probably bitching and moaning about it too.
Just like us.
They just weren’t good enough or popular enough in school when literacy did finally come around, to write ourselves and our families into the pages of myth, legend and proto-history.
Fucking slackers.


+read the rest of the sasuage series+

Sausage the first
Sausage the second
Sausage the third
Sausage the fourth
artwork by miss.w.todd
+further reading+
Early Christian Ireland: Introduction to the Sources. Kathleen Hughes. 1972.
Early Irish Law. Fergus Kelly.
Early Medieval Ireland, 400-1200. Dáibhí Ó Cróinín. 1994.
Early Irish History and Chronology. Dáibhí Ó Cróinín. 2003.
Medieval Ireland- The Enduring Tradition. Michael Richter.
(And if you’re really, really, REALLY interested)
Seanchas: Studies in Early and Medieval Irish Archaeology, History and Literature, 2000.
Nebulae discutiuntur? The emergence of Clann Cholmain, sixth-eight centuries – Ailbhe Mac Shamhráin
The Banshenchas and the Uí Néill queens of Tara – Anne Connen
Óenach Tailten, the Blackwater Valley and the Uí Néill kings of Tara – Catherine Swift



  1. Some faulty HTML there? All the sausages link me back to the first, which is wonderfully poetic, but not, I expect, what you intended 😉

  2. Oooops. Many thanks, mrG.
    Will fix that presently.
    In the meantime, the rest of the series is available by scrolling down in the ‘diggin’ in the dirt’ section.

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