Gathering Irish Genes

2013 is a big year for Ireland.

The Emerald Isle is calling her people home for a celebration of all things Irish in a year-long program, The Gathering: Ireland 2013.  Featuring everything from music festivals to Guinness World Record competitions (check out the Town of 1000 Beards gathering), the event marks the biggest tourism initiative ever held in Ireland—and National Geographic’s Genographic Project couldn’t help but get in on the action.

Invited by the Enterprise and Investment Unit at County Mayo as part of The Gathering, the Genographic Project visited Ireland this past weekend to take a DNA sampling and create a genetic snapshot of the country.

At a standing-room-only public event held at the National Museum of Ireland – Country Life on Sunday, the Genographic Project swabbed 100 volunteers from all around County Mayo. The team also had the opportunity to swab some well-known faces in the County, including An Taoiseach Enda Kenny (Prime Minister of Ireland) and Minister of State Michael Ring, TD.

A County Mayo resident swabs with Geno 2.0 as one of the 100 participants. (Photo by Eammon O’Boyle)

“We were honored to be invited by the Mayo County Council to participate in The Gathering, Ireland 2013,” says Alexander Moen, National Geographic’s vice president, Explorer Programs. “The Gathering is a reunion of clans so to speak. Similarly, the Genographic Project is a virtual gathering of humanity connected by myriad migration routes around the world over the last 60,000 years. So Ireland was a perfect place to host a community Geno 2.0 swab event.”

The results will provide insight into the genetic makeup and ancient ancestry of the people in this Western region of Ireland. These 100 participants have now joined more than 600,000 people in 130 countries in an effort to determine the path of human movement around the world.

In addition to hosting the DNA swab, the Genographic team ventured to the mystical island of Inishturk for the unveiling of “The Tale of the Tongs,” the latest art installation in Travis Price’s Spirit of Place project, brought to Ireland as part of The Gathering. The piece, which was constructed by local craftsmen and American architecture students, is meant to be a place to “re-connect and re-kindle Irish heritage.” While on Inishturk—which translates to “island of the Wild Boar”—the Genographic team swabbed three of the island’s original families, whose names are part of the installation.

Picture of "The Tale of the Tongs" on Inishturk island in Ireland
“The Tale of the Tongs” installation is located on the Irish island of Inishturk. (Photo courtesy Travis Price)

Danny O’Toole of the Mayo County Council has wanted to see something like the “The Tale of the Tongs” on Inishturk for some time.

“I was born and reared on Inishturk Island and for many years now have wanted something like this to happen on the island,” he says. When architect Travis Price of the Catholic University of America expressed interest in bringing the Spirit of Place project to County Mayo, O’Toole knew exactly where it should be built.

“I entered the conversation a short time after,” he says, “and of course my opinion was somewhat bias in relation to where the project should take place. Inishturk!”

Check out the Genographic Project’s website to learn more about how you can trace your own family’s story. 

“UPDATE 7/9/2013: The Results Are In!”

The Genographic team looks forward to analyzing the 100 participant results in the upcoming week to help fill in the gaps on what we already know about Irish ancestry. Prior to the events in Ireland, the Genographic Project was honored to have a few local celebrities participate with the Geno 2.0 Participation Kit. Below is a recap of a few of their Genographic Project results.

Prime Minister Enda Kenny’s paternal Geno 2.0 results found a lineage that is found at moderate frequency in northern Europe, including Ireland, Britain and Scandinavia.  This particular lineage Haplogroup I, spread from the Balkans during the post-glacial recolonization of Europe at the end of the last Ice Age.  The Prime Minister’s maternal haplogroup, H2 is much rarer in Ireland, reaching a maximum of 5-10% in parts of Eastern Europe and Scandinavia. It was originally spread during the post-glacial recolonization of Europe at the end of the last ice age.

Cora Staunton, a County Mayo football star, showed the very common haplogroup H1ag1 on her maternal side, the most widespread mitochondrial haplogroup in Europe. Most people fall into subclades H1, H2 and H3, but there are many more.  H1 is common in Europe, and was probably spread in part during the postglacial recolonization of northern Europe at the end of the last Ice Age.  H1ag1 is a recently described sublineage of H1 that we are currently studying to better understand its present-day distribution.

Captain Mark Mellett, head of the Irish Navy, greeted the Genographic team at the Geno 2.0 swab event at the Museum of Ireland Country Life. His paternal results demonstrated that his ancient ancestors entered Europe from Central Asia during the last Ice Age, over 25,000 years ago. On the maternal side, Mellett demonstrated similar results to Cora Stauton with Haplogroup H. However, his results demonstrated a rare subclat, H56 which is found at low frequencies across Europe and currently little is known about its present distribution.

  • Dr Tyrone Bowes

    If it was an attempt to sample the descendants of the first people in Ireland then north Roscommon would have been a better sampling spot (it contains the highest density of people with Irish surnames).

  • Judith E Roach Ashburn Raway

    I am excited about the Ireland Geno 2.0 event. We found my Mothers Family in the Midlands, County Offally but we do not know where my Father is from. I bought a kit, too late for my Father but my brother’s DNA will tell us I hope..
    It is fascinating to find your history, your roots, and to expand your story.

  • M Lyndsey Curten

    I have recently received my results for my mother’s line. I belong to H1e2. It was very interesting to find out about my ancient DNA from North Eastern Africa 70,000 years ago. I also found that my closest percent of DNA matches Northern Europe and Germany. I have knowledge of being Irish, Scotch, and Welsh through family stories and Ancestry .com. I think my family’s actual route into Great Britain is still an ongoing research from the Geno 2.0.

  • Karamatullah Khan

    It is interesting to know a project on Mayo County. I would like to read and know more about deep ancestory of people with Mayo surname.

  • Michael MacNamara

    My mDNA is H14a which seems pretty rare. My farthest back maternal ancestor was Mary McLeroy (McElroy, McAlroy, Kilroy) from Around Kilbeggan, Westmeath. Born in 1790s.

  • barbara

    Always wondered about the origin of the name “Tanneyhill”, my grandmother’s surname. Anyone?

  • Connie Kennedy

    I’m an O’Doherty (North Donnegal County) on my dad’s side and a Kennedy from Dublin on my mom’s side. Are you looking for only Irish from County Mayo to participate or from anywhere in Ireland? My bloodtype is B- if that has any bearing.

  • Mary Ann Geier

    Great to hear about Mayo residents participating. My Genographic Project maternal line results are in recently too: V10a. My earliest documented maternal ancestor, surname Cowley, was also from Western Ireland (Easkey, Sligo), and emigrated to the USA around 1885-1888. Close enough to Mayo to almost be neighbors.


    My late mothers recent connections are to the people of Ireland, Wales and Germany. Her mother’s maiden name was KENNEY. Mom’s maternal grandmother’s surname was GAUGHAN. And, her mother’s name was KELLY. Mom’s father’s name was KELLER [German]. And his mother’s surname was RICHARDS [Welsh]. As the NG Genome Project has proved beyond a doubt, however, is that we are all related to the same core group of humans who migrated out of NE Africa more than 50,000 years ago.
    What a marvelous and eclectic family tree of colors, shapes, sizes and stories!

  • John David Massey

    I am still tracing my ancestral origins. My father’s DNA signature matches that of people with Germanic origins. There are several postulations as to where we were from before migrating to the United States. Several sources list us as a relation to Hugh Massy from near Duntryleague, Ireland. I do not know of any living relatives. It was said that they migrated back to England. The family originally were of Norman descent prior to the migration to England in er abt. 1066 with the invasion. I am haplogroup I1 (M253) with Z138 being my terminal SNP. I guess that puts me in the group of I1a3b also known as Anglo Saxon 2 and Nordic Continental West depending on the FTDNA group. I have a close match with a Keller from Mooresville, Indiana. Coincidentally enough I grew up with his daughter, so it’s a small world after all. I’d like to learn more about the Massy DNA in Ireland. A Frank Tracy wrote on the family, If Those Trees Could Speak. I do not know their DNA signature. I was told by a cousin that we are related to the Massey’s of Canada and they are related to this line, however I would like to test a living relative.

  • Donna Moore

    I am 65 yr. old and was adopted when I was a baby.
    Now I will have some idea of where I came from. I can’t wait for the DNA results.
    Other adopted people should do this too.

  • K Childs

    Our McKlveen family arrived in America 1799/1800.
    Our Ewing family arrived in America about 1850. Both families settled in Pennsylvaina

  • Rosie von Engel

    will there be an Irish Project as there is a Norway Project? If one ‘s family story is that we are Scots Irish are we actually Scottish? RLvE

  • Joe FAHY

    I had Geno 2.0 done last year showing northern Europe genes which from that I discovered threw further medical tests a blood disorder from genes that know being corrected thanks to l Geographic .It would have been helpful 60 years earlier but it wasn’t being done then, everyone should participate in Geno 2.0 very interesting to find out where you came from and where genes you have came from and why you have them. I like others knew I was Irish but before there was Ireland you had to be something else! Thanks again National geographics

  • Lynne

    I would love to see such a study done in Wales: one in the North, one in the South. I participated in the first DNA sampling, so do not know if I have Denisovan or Neanderthal. Does one have to purchase a whole new kit to discover that, or are there any plans to “update” previous kits?

  • Delia

    Just received my mtDNA results. H3z1 My mother’s father, Peter Ryan, was born in Cuilnakillew, Co. Mayo. 1849. The lineage of her mother, Rose Duffy, according to family stories was from Roscommon area and Donegal. I have no father or brothers that could contribute a sample, so that lineage will go undiscovered. That is sad, since several of my father’s lines were also from Co. Mayo: Heenan/Heneghan (Westport area), Hannighan,(Partree) and Durkin (Feenune)

  • Curtis Clark

    At 65, I remember the story from my grandmother who told me of her mother, Mary Ann(e) Conway, who was a descendant from County Mayo that immigrated to the US sometime in the 1800’s. That’s all I know. Hope I’ll find out more here. I just sent in my sample (male).

  • Bill Bartek

    Having just participated in the Genographic Project I was glad to hear more news about my Irish heritage. The Scandinavian connection was outlined in my DNA history, I never saw that coming! It will be fascinating to learn more detail about this DNA path in history as more people and hopefully Irish candidates participate.
    Thanks Genographic Project, I will be giving the 2.0 kits as Christmas gifts this year! ….Team Guido, The Amazing Race All Stars

  • Eileen Susan Gabriel

    I recently joined the Geno 2.0 program. The results I received were VERY interesting, most of it was exactly what I expected, but one line (2 %)was Native American. Seems totally impossible to me. My mother was born in Glasgow, Scotland in 1905, Her father Parick Bradley was born in Donegal, Ireland in the late 1870’s and emigrated to Glasgow in the late 1890’s. Her mother was born in Glasgow from Irish Parents. Native American genes simply don’t fit in this maternal lineage. I haven’t been able to find anyway to question this with the Geno Project, would really like some help with this.

  • Travis McDaniel

    In response to Eileen Susan Gabriel’s confusion of her test showing she has Native American DNA when she knows it is totally impractical for that to be true…I have a comment. I too tested with the same results and questioned National Geographic about it. They gave me no good answer but suggested I contact FamilytreeDNA, the testing company that did the work. So I contacted them and again, did not recirve a satisfactory answer. My specific question was …did the markers for what they called Native American actually represent a connection to a current day Native American…or rather was the marker from a much more ancient connection in Siberia which is where all the Native Americans came from. Again, I did not get a satisfactory answer from either. Nat Geo did say our mix comes from both modern and ancient DNA, so my own assumption is that when the Native American markers shows up in people such as you and I (I match the chief’s of MacDonald Clan’s DNA) it comes from our more ancient ancestry,
    Travis McDaniel

  • Barbara

    I am waiting for my results from National Genome I have taken a DNA test with 23 and me with surprising results which I question. Both parents from UK , mother born in Belfast, N. Ireland of Scots-Irish parents Father born in Bournemouth, England of parents from Isle of Wight. My results were 99.9 N. European but 46% Ashkenazi Jew ..totally puzzled. Don’t understand this. Family as far back as I know were Christians! Help me understand how this can be.

  • Margaret LaCombe

    Please do west County Galway next – perhaps Connemara?

  • Lisa Eberhardt

    Our son was adopted from Bulgaria where a very high percentage of orphans have Roma ancestry, (gypsy). We were told his mother was Roma but father unknown. We were very excited to get his DNA results as he will have something of his background. We are very glad we did so he has some connection to his past.

  • David Turco

    To Barbara, the Ashkenazi Jews are not semitic/middle eastern but from the Causasus region between Europe and Asia, in other words they are Causasians with similar ancestry to yours. Unfortunately genetic projects such as this (which I too participated in) are only partially scientific. A lot of assumptions go into it. For instance, I had almost 3% Denisovan, my mother 0% so my father would be between 5-6%. Well he has no heritage that would substantiate that so I contacted the Geographic and they said something to the effect that it’s still experimental so don’t go by that. Also from my research, oral history turns out to be more accurate than assumptions made by scientists. In the west, there is this accepted view that we all came out of Africa, there is no real evidence for this, it’s all based on cherry picked data. The Chinese for instance as well as Native Americans believe there was a multiple origin to humanity which seems to be more accurate.
    My biggest issue is with the theory that Native Americans all came from Siberia. They substantiate this theory by the fact that a small area in North East Asia has 3% Native American DNA and it’s the only place outside of the Americas that this exists, therefore that’s where Native Americans originated. Well I have 3% North East Asia, logically due to the mongols in Europe, but using the same logic did all North East Asians originate in Western Europe where my ancestry is from? No of course not.
    I personally know the historian from the Narragansett Nation and all of the east coast Native Americans say about 50,000 years ago they came from a large island to the east, meaning the Altlantic. The Native population of Australia contend they have always been there and they are not Africans. We may never know but this is why DNA results often don’t make any sense – the theory that we are all out of East Africa is just a theory, not a fact. Does anyone find it odd that the mutations that took place outside of Africa never happened in Africa?

  • C.M. Taylor

    Tested with the original test from Nat Geo and results were Haplogroup T/T2 – which goes back to somewhere around Northern Europe – around the Baltic Sea.

    I know from my maternal grandmother that her Mom Mary McGowan came from County Mayo, Ireland in the 1860’s at the age of 16.

  • Samantha Blee

    Thanks for your comments! You can send your questions to genographic@ngs.org and they will go over your results with you.

  • Mike Walsh

    Is there any way we can highly encourage the participants to do the following?
    1) log into into their National Genographic account and transfer their results to Family Tree DNA (the lab who did testing)
    2) Join their respective surname projects
    3) Join ehe Irish Heritage Project at http://www.familytreedna.com/public/IrelandHeritage/default.aspx?section=yresults

    I’m a project administrator for the Walsh-Wech-Welsh surnames project and there has got to be a few of those folks in Co. Mayo.

  • Nelson Akpese

    How does something, generate ? Will it form or be of the same understanding and Equation in Radioactive generating or generation or something generating? It is the same way we will have the reactions go on or going on to make or equation function; or we should have the same functioning or function [f(x}] {function ff(x) from functioning}

  • Anna Banana

    My father is Mexican-American and my mother is 10th generation American of British-Scottish descent. When my results came in I was not surprised to see 29% Mediterranean, 29% Northern European, 25% Native American, 12% Southwest Asian, but was surprised to see the 2% sub-Saharan African and the 0.9% Denisovan. Does my Denisovan heritage come from my Native ancestry? Why am I more Denisovan than Neanderthal (only 0.5%), and how do I find out where the Denisovan came from?

  • Barbara smith

    My father and his brothers are deceased and I have no brothers. Tracing the male side is not likely. I have my dad’s gloves but others have worn them. How likely is it we could find a sample of Dad’s skin cells or a hair and use the DNA in the gloves? What if my cousins had access to their father’s DNA?

  • Erik Maher

    In response to Travis McDaniel and Eileen Susan Gabriel regarding the reported Native American component, my father also has 2% Native American. He and all of his known ancestors are from Co. Clare and Co. Meath, Ireland and there is no reason for there to be any Native American or East Asian component.

    Siberian and Mongolian reference populations only have 4% Native American Ancestry Informative Markers, so for my dad to have 2% NA AIMs does not make much sense. Seeing your comments, I’m starting to think that the 2% Native American could be a spurious result; what you might call a Geno 2.0 bug or some kind of data analysis glitch.

    Some ideas (all of which seem quite preposterous):
    – A Siberian merchant somehow found his way to an Irish port city?
    – Ancient trade occurred in the North Atlantic between Chippewa or Ojibwe people and Gaelic people?
    – An Inuit or Yupik person sails into a storm and is shipwrecked off Galway?
    – An African-American slave with some Native American ancestry is transferred to Great Britain in the 1700s and somehow becomes my ancestor?

    Each one of these crazy ideas also requires a love affair, making each one even more unlikely. In any event, it is only 2% so I’m not losing sleep.

  • Rod Beaton

    I just started with this DNA stuff, I never knew we originated in Western Asia. We must be part Neanderthal. I heard modern man ( woman) slept with the Neanderthals.
    I wonder if they can connect us with ‘Royalty?
    I heard there was Irish Royalty in my family tree. But

  • Eileen McFetridge

    My maternal grandmother lived with her family in Rasharkin, County Antrim. She wore a Brittany cap and clothing. A boat came from brittany every night in those days and returned with eels in barrels from the river Bann. Which were prepared in Brittany and sold to the Belgiums. My paternal grandfather was a Dempsey and I learned a lot about that family history in the 1990’s in County Offlay in library records in an old cottage behind the county library. They are the black irish who originally came from Spain.

  • Theresa McGinniss Galloway

    Being an Irish first generation status in the USA, all of my lineage is from counties in Ireland, As a black Irish female, I have often been asked if I was Choctaw because of my appearance. This is an american indian tribe still living around Louisiana, USA. Waiting for my results and open minded to any findings.
    Open minded to ANY results to come, waiting for my results.

  • James R Ingram Jr

    Decades ago my father told me we are English,Scotch,Irish,French,German,and Cherokee. Thanks to the National Geographic project, I have confirmed the English,Scotch,Irish,and German and,it seems, the French.

    Decades ago, my Father told me we are English,Scotch,Irish,French,German and Cherokee. Thanks to the National Geographic Project, I have confirmed for myself the English,Scotch,Irish,German,and it seems the French. I need to keep going on this and find a way to learn something about the Cherokee.I feel great finding out so much about myself.

  • jane johnstone

    Like Eileen Susan Gabriel and Travis McDaniel, I have unusual results (2% Native American) from my Genographic Project 2.0 test. I am waiting to hear back from them, but don’t expect I’ll get any more explanation than you did. With regard to Travis’s idea on the ancient Siberian connection..I also have 3.2% Denisovan (though I know this test is a more experimental one.) The Denisovans were found in Siberia and Russia..so perhaps there is a connection. There is no history of my family ever having been to America or had any intermarriage with Americans. So the only other explanation is a family scandal six generations ago!?
    Maybe the three of us are related! I will be looking into my family tree to see if there are any Irish connections. My dad’s family were Scottish.

  • kamran

    any idea what will be ancestors route if I am punjabi heritage from south asia.

  • marg (palmer) sullivan

    My great Grandmother was born in Ireland. My maternal line is U4b1a1a. Any one out there with my lineage? Answer in this column.

  • Linda Callanan

    I just got back my results and was surprised to discover only 45% Northern European as all four of my grandparents were Irish immigrants. More surprising was that the tests gave English and German as #1 and #2 reference populations. Does Geno2 consider “English” the same as “Irish?”

  • C. M. Taylor

    For those whose DNA testing reveals Native American, the Vikings seem to have been to North America and brought back some of the North American natives.



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