I found this all incredibly interesting. I had just received notice that my DNA matches that of Niall of the Nine Hostages, as does every 12th Irishman. This came to me through my participation in MyFTDNA, a DNA testing service that attempts to track ancestry and migration through genetics. 

A recent study was conducted at Trinity College Dublin, Ireland, which found that a striking % of men in Ireland (and quite a few in Scotland) share the same Y chromosome, suggesting that the 5th-century warlord known as “Niall of the Nine Hostages” may be the ancestor of one in 12 Irishmen. Niall established a dynasty of powerful chieftains that dominated the island for six centuries.

Your Y chromosome matches this profile! In the study scientists found an area in northwest Ireland where they claim 21.5% carry Niall’s genetic fingerprint, says Brian McEvoy, one of the team at Trinity. The same area of Ireland has previously been the subject of Anthropological writings…and has shown a strikingly high % of men from Haplogroup R1b (98%) versus 90% in S.E. Ireland. According to McVoy this area was the main powerbase of the Ui Neills, which literally translated means “descendants of Niall”.

McEvoy says the Y chromosome appeared to trace back to one person. Following the genealogists trail, McVoy comments: “There are certain surnames that seem to have come from Ui Neill. We studied if there was any association between those surnames and the genetic profile. It is his (Niall’s) family.”

Of note to Family Tree DNA customers, this signature is found in .6 of 1% of the entire Family Tree DNA database. It is characterized by the following Markers when our 12 marker test is applied: A more detailed signature appears when we apply the Y-DNA 25 marker test and compare to the apparent signature of the Ui Neills. A listing of those values appears in the table below. While the signature is typical for R1b European males in general it’s characterized by an 11,13 at DYS 385a/b and a 14 at DYS 392. Within our second panel of markers the most distinctive results from this apparent Modal is the 15,16,16,17 at DYS 464.

McVoy states: “As in other polygynous societies, the siring of offspring was related to power and prestige.” The study mentions that just one of the O’Neill dynasty chieftains who died in 1423 had 18 sons with nearly a dozen women and claimed 59 grandsons. Niall of the Nine Hostages received his name from the taking of hostages as a strategy for playing mental havoc upon his opponent chieftains. He is known in folklore as a raider of the British and French coasts.

Supposedly slain in the English Channel or in Scotland, his descendants were the most powerful rulers of Ireland until the 11th century. Modern surnames tracing their ancestry to Niall include (O’)Neill, (O’)Gallagher, (O’)Boyle, (O’)Doherty, O’Donnell, Connor, Cannon, Bradley, O’Reilly, Flynn, (Mc)Kee, Campbell, Devlin, Donnelly, Egan, Gormley, Hynes, McCaul, McGovern, McLoughlin, McManus, McMenamin, Molloy, O’Kane, O’Rourke and Quinn. Journal reference: American Journal of Human Genetics(February issue)

By Michael Gallagher

My name is Michael Sean Gallagher. I am a Lecturer in Digital Education at the Centre for Research in Digital Education at the University of Edinburgh. I am Co-Founder and Director of Panoply Digital, a consultancy dedicated to ICT and mobile for development (M4D); we have worked with USAID, GSMA, UN Habitat, Cambridge University and more on education and development projects. I was a researcher on the Near Futures Teaching project, a project that explores how teaching at The University of Edinburgh unfold over the coming decades, as technology, social trends, patterns of mobility, new methods and new media continue to shift what it means to be at university. Previously, I was the Research Associate on the NERC, ESRC, and AHRC Global Challenges Research Fund sponsored GCRF Research for Emergency Aftershock Forecasting (REAR) project. I was an Assistant Professor at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies (한국외국어대학교) in Seoul, Korea. I have also completed a doctorate at University College London (formerly the independent Institute of Education, University of London) on mobile learning in the humanities in Korea.

3 thoughts on “Family Tree DNA and Niall of the Nine Hostages”
  1. May I ask why Niall’s male descendants are looked for mainly Irish families, and using surnames as an extra points of relationship? Surnames amongst the Insular Celtic Nations are new in an historical sense and do not seem to me to be of any real practical use. As for looking elsewhere other than Ireland overlooks the ancient dynasties in Wales of known Irish origin. As for surnames it was not until 1837 that my ancestor chose DAVIES as an heriditory surname. Also being of Pembrokeshire origin I have found that 18 of the first 25 DYS markers are a match with those of Niall’s whilst the remaining 7 markers are only one point in difference. Family tree research and autosomal DNA both suggest a possible mutation which is Irish and then introduced into Wales. Perhaps research should have its boundaries extended further afield. Sincerely Colin

  2. The whole story is purely silly. Here’s another statistic for you : the DF-27 O’Neills , supposedly of recent origin, outnumber M-222 O’Neills by a full third.
    But this M-222 is the ancient line of Niall, 127th King of Ireland?
    The story gets loopier as time goes on. The M-222 project at FTDNA , as of March 3,2021 considers the matter settled: M-222 is NOT Niall’s DNA.

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