The Vikings Left An Imprint on the Irish Genetic Pool

One of the most interesting studies on Irish DNA to date is The Irish DNA Atlas, published in December 2017.

A group of 12 researchers conducted a massive study incorporating thousands of people, including “Irish individuals with four generations of ancestry linked to specific regions in Ireland.” They identified distinct population clusters among the Irish, yet they all had something in common.

It was one of the most interesting findings of the study:

“We demonstrate high levels of North-West French-like and West Norwegian-like ancestry within Ireland” (including..) “admixture events that provide evidence of Norse-Viking gene flow into Ireland.”

The North-West French part isn’t all that surprising considering the history of the Celtic people, but the Norse-Viking bit is fascinating. The Vikings invaded the Irish coast back in the 8th, 9th & 10th centuries. Some settled, and now there’s strong evidence of mixing into the Irish genetic pool. And it’s not just a tiny amount of DNA, but a decent amount of DNA in the modern-day Irish, from every part of the country.

Here’s a look at the admixture of each population group in this study. Basically, it shows how each group matches up with other populations in Europe. The bars labeled “Ireland” are on the right, next to Orkney (far right). You can see the amount of purple in the Irish DNA, with purple representing Norway. This stands out compared to England’s bars (on the left), for example, whose population more closely matches Germany (green) & Denmark (blue) .

Source: The Irish DNA Atlas: Revealing Fine-Scale Population Structure and History within Ireland

The Vikings certainly left an impact on Ireland from their pre-Norman Invasion raids. One of the most well-known Viking settlements was Dublin itself. Here’s a nice graphical representation of Viking settlements & place names that have Scandinavian origin, per Irish Origenes:

We now know that the Vikings didn’t just conduct raids and pillage the Irish people. They mixed with the gene pool.

As Russell McLaughlin, a genetics professor at Trinity College in Dublin, says:

“We can’t say for certain exactly how much Viking is in modern Irish people, but we can say that it was found among people from all different parts of the island, signifying a compelling connection among the population as a whole.”

What’s interesting about the Vikings’ invasion is many Vikings who settled adopted Gaelic traditions. Irish Central notes that some Vikings adopted Gaelic surnames in place of their patronymic naming system. For example, the surname Doyle comes from Ó Dubhghaill (dubh = dark, gall = foreigner); O’Loughlin comes from Lochlann (literally Viking in Irish); and Reynolds comes from Mac Raghnall, from the Norse first name Ragnall. These all suggest Viking roots, and DNA analysis now supports that the modern Irish have at least some Viking ancestry in their blood.

This explains the small percentages of “Scandinavian” that came back unexpectedly on some of my family’s DNA kits.

So if you’re Irish, you probably have at least a fraction of Viking in your blood too.

Interested to learn more about your Irish heritage? Check out these books. (Note: These are affiliate links, which means we may receive a small commission from your purchase at no extra cost to you. Thank you for supporting Irish DNA Net!)

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