Wednesday 13 March 2013, 8pm
DNA studies are a new and developing field and it was only on 7 September 2010 that the Irish genome was published for the first time. The study of Irish genealogies, on the other hand, represents the oldest academic discipline known on the island, since genealogical information forms the bulk of material recorded on our fifth century and later ogham stones. In that context, work by the Department of Genetics in TCD has led to some very interesting research on the way in which identifying the DNA associated with specific surnames can reveal new and interesting angles on our understanding of early medieval Ireland, its kingdoms and its relationships with Viking migrants from Scandinavia. This paper provides a summary of that research as well as a medieval historian’s critique of some of the interpretations offered. One of the most famous articles produced by the TCD group is its identification of a characteristic DNA haplotype which it links to the figure of Níall Noígiallach (Niall of the Nine Hostages), founder of the Uí Néill overlordship of Tara. In the second part of the paper the surnames of Meath and Westmeath are examined in the light of the ongoing studies, and possible avenues for future research are suggested.
Dr Catherine Swift is Director of Irish Studies at Mary Immaculate Training College, University of Limerick. Dr Swift took her primary degree in Archaeology and History in UCD. She subsequently gained Master’s degrees at the University of Durham and at TCD, and a doctorate at the University of Oxford. She taught in several universities in both Ireland and Britain before going to Limerick. She has published widely in the field of early Irish history. Her current research in DNA is in pursuit of evidence for early medieval migration in the Viking period.