More than three million men living today are directly descended from Tyrone’s famous O’Neill dynasty.
Geneticists have traced the DNA of modern men living right across the globe, but predominantly in Ireland and the US, to that of one ‘founding father’ - Niall of the Nine hostages, the most prolific warrior in Irish history.
A team of geneticists at Trinity College Dublin led by Professor Dan Bradley discovered that the men may be descendents of the Irish warlord, who was who was the Irish “High King” at Tara, the ancient center of Ireland from A.D. 379 to A.D. 405.
This warlord was responsible for the very common Irish surname “O’Neill” (“Ui Neill” in Gaelic) – which literally means ‘descendant son of Niall’ – and is also linked to the surnames Quinn, O’Connor, Flynn, Egan, Hynes, and O’Reilly.
The supposedly fearless leader battled the English, the Scots, the French and even the Romans, and struck fear into the heart of his enemies. His dynasty lasted for centuries, continuing up until the Elizabethan conquest of Ireland at the end of the 16th century.
Legend has it that it was Niall of the Nine Hostages who, on a raid in Wales, captured a young slave and brought him to Ireland. That slave would later escape, and go to become Ireland’s patron saint, St. Patrick.
The researchers also found that as many as one in 12 men in Ireland have the same DNA as the Irish king and in Ireland’s northwest, that figure rises to one in five.
“We sampled 60 people with these names and found the strongest association was with them,” Bradley told the London Independent. “Before this, everything was mythology, but now there does seem to have been a single male ancestor of this group of powerful dynasties.”
“In many countries, powerful men historically have more children, and it’s not that hard to believe that it happened in Ireland too.
“We estimate there are maybe two to three million descendants in the modern age, with a concentration in Ireland, obviously. Then there are Scotland and New York - you find the particular chromosome in reasonable frequency in New Yorkers of European descent.”