View Full Version : Scottish-Irish DNA links

08-01-2016, 08:54 AM
Hi Folks,

I wanted to suggest a new thread, on a sometimes controversial topic. But it seems to be so crucial to our understanding of many of the L21 subclades in the isles, and it also seems like a wasted opportunity not to tap into the extensive knowledge on this site.

Firstly, many of the big subclades of L21 are found at the highest frequencies in Scotland and Ireland - some of them with clear links between the two, some not. Now I've been doing a lot of reading on this, and I feel I have made a bit of progress, despite some issues still being shrouded in mystery. There are of course the well-known links between Scotland and Ireland (e.g. Dalriada; the Ulster plantation etc.), but especially further back in time, the exact nature of the links are shadowy. Maybe DNA can help us here. To kick things off, issues that I feel are still unresolved are:

1. The exact relationship between the Gaelic speakers of (western) Scotland, and those of Ireland. What did this link consist of, and how was it fostered?

2. The links, if any, between the Scottish Picts and groups in Ireland. Again, were there links, and if so, what were they (I read recently that both peoples used Ogham script, possibly suggesting early language contact)?

Forgive me if these questions seem naive - and again, I do not want to create controversy here, simply stimulate open and hopefully productive debate on this crucial issue.

08-01-2016, 11:15 AM
I'm not sure what is controversial about it? Unless you men it's controversial in certain sections of Scottish society? (fostered in part by some of the rhetoric of the 19th century/early 20th century)

Modern Irish and Modern Scottish Gáidhlig both share ancestry in the Old/Middle Irish period. It's been argued recently that the divergence between the two really starts off at end of "Old Irish" period (circa 1000AD). Part of this is probably due to (a) Norse impact on western Scotland (b) the impact of a Brythonic/Pictish substrate on the language as spoken in Scotland (eg. borrowing of words into spoken language that didn't occur in Ireland) (c) the very different outcomes of the Norman's in Ireland compared to Scotland in late 12th/early 13th century.

What should be noted is that Gaelic Ireland and Gaelic Scotland maintained a common literary language (in the shape of "Early Modern Irish") up until the 17th century. Though by this late stage the "literary language" (eg. "Bardic Standard") was quite "fossilised" compared to the various spoken dialects.

As a comparison an interesting parallel is the breakup of "Old Norse" into what would eventually become Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, Faroese and Icelandic, which basically occurred over a similiar time period. Like modern Scandinavian languages if you are fluent in Irish or in Scottish Gáidhlig, it wouldn't take long to become functionaly fluent in the other if you put effort in. (Even with my "School Irish" I can read a good chunk of Scottish Gáidhlig -- though spelling has clearly diverged)

Anyways Gaelic Ireland and Gaelic Scotland were intimately tied together throughout the middle ages. A prime example of course was the fact that "Gallowglasses" arrived initially in Ireland as part of a wedding dowry when Aedh mac Felim Ó Conchobair (King of Connacht) married the daughter of Dubhghall mac Ruaidhrí ("King" of Argyll & Isles) -- dowry consisted of 160 men led by Dubhghall's brother Ailéan mac Ruaidhrí.

One could argue that the increased number of Scottish mercenaries in Ireland after this period is probably due to integration of the "Kingdom of the Isles" into the Scottish realm. Thus as the McDonalds of the isles rose to power as Lord of the Isles during the 14th/15th centuries they remained involved in Ireland, for example a branch of them came to rule the "Glens of Antrim" (In Ireland familyname is anglisced as McDonnell)


Needless to say it was the tradition of Scottish military service in Ireland persisted right up to the Elizabethan period, where for example you had "annual migration" of Redshank's from western Isles to fight in Ireland as mercenaries.

Of course it shouldn't be forgotten that Edward Bruce led a Scottish invasion of Ireland in 1315, with intention of placing him on the Irish throne:

Robert had played the shared ancestry card earlier (perhaps in decade or so before Bannockburn)

Whereas we and you and our people and your people, free since ancient times, share the same national ancestry and are urged to come together more eagerly and joyfully in friendship by a common language and by common custom, we have sent you our beloved kinsman, the bearers of this letter, to negotiate with you in our name about permanently strengthening and maintaining inviolate the special friendship between us and you, so that with God's will our nation (nostra nacio) may be able to recover her ancient liberty.

This invasion along with the Black Death 30 years later was one of major causes of decline of Cambro-Norman colony in the late 14th century.

From quick look through History Ireland the following might be of interest:


08-01-2016, 11:22 AM
Many thanks. I added the reference to controversy as a caveat, as I know there are some, not necessarily here, who do not like any mention of celtic, or fancied Scotto-Irish links etc. But such links are undeniable, and in my mind, something to be celebrated.

I'll take some time to go through the links, and thanks again for taking the time. Do you have any leads on the relationship between Scottish and Irish Gaelic? I mean the 'conventional' story in Scotland was that it was brought in through Dalriada etc. But my feeling is that this was perhaps part of the 18th and 19th century historiographical package which was set up to distinguish 'us' from 'them' in rather unpleasant terms, and for clearly political reasons. recent scholarship from genetics and archaeology (and indeed linguistics) seems to suggest ancient, unbroken continuity between the regions. Gaelic is far and away the number one source for placenames in Scotland - and all over, not just in the 'celtic' west. Then there are the overlays in different regions (from Pictish, British, English and Norse etc.).

Any ideas also on the pictish thing?

08-01-2016, 02:06 PM
Re Dalriada: several modern historians and authors now challenge the origin-legend that claimed that the Scotti of Antrim invaded Argyllshire, thereby spreading the Gaelic language. Tim Clarkson & Stuart McHardy believe that the Iron Age tribes/Picts of the west & south-west merely adopted the Gaelic language as it was the language of trade on the Atlantic trade route. The Druim Alban mountain range was a major obstacle which prevented the Picts in the north-east easily communicating with their Iron Age cousins.
The authors go further & state that it's likely that influence travelled from Argyllshire to Antrim, not vice-versa. Others also point to various archaeological reasons to support the revisionist theories.
If you check some of my other posts, you'll see I mention how much of the 'evidence' for founders such as Fergus Mor mac Eirc was added hundreds of years after his supposed arrival in Argyllshire. Altering facts in later centuries was often performed to legitimize claims of various rulers to hold land.
Some of the controversy you mention could be due to the divided opinions of researchers, some of whom remain convinced by the origin-legends, and others who don't. I try to keep an open mind. Hopefully, the majority of interested parties will just want to find the truth, whatever that is!

08-01-2016, 02:50 PM
The story about Dál Riada as source for Gaeldom in Scotland actually dates back as far as least the 10th century, Senchus fer n-Alban (The History of Men of Scotland) for example is a manuscript in Old Irish which is generally dated to 10th century (on linguistic terms), this gives us a view into the polity of Dál Riada before it was obviously "over-run" by the Vikings.

(See Woolf's article about Dál Riada during the Viking age)

It strikes me that the Dál Riada story basically ties in with general process of "syncretic histories" that were drawn up in the 7th-8th century in Ireland. In such a scenario it's possible that relevant dynastical groups in Dál Riada gave themselves a more "prestigous" genealogy by tieing into the various pseudo-historical narratives that were been drafted in Ireland at the time. It wouldn't surprise me if the movement was actually other way around with Dál Riada expanding into North Antrim from the direction of Scottish isles. Something that would be repeated a thousand years later by the McDonalds of the Isles. Even occupying the same part of Antrim.

In case of McDonalds they would give themselves a "Clann Colla" genealogy to boot to mask their probable "Gall-Ghaeil" (Norse-Gael) origin. The Colla genealogy is handy one to lapse onto because (a) it's probably fabricated in itself (b) it gives a link (within framework of genealogical strucutures) to Dál Cuinn (eg. Connachta ⁊ Uí Néill

The question arises as to when Insular Celtic languages became differentiated from each other. Some such as Schrijver argues for late spilt with Irish only arriving in Ireland (from Northern Britain) as late as 1st century AD!!! This of course is problematic from an archaelogy point of view, where it's evident that links to Northern Britain are restored in period after 300BC (Ireland basically was in a "Dark age" for 500 years archaeologically speaking).


With regard to Pictish what little we can say is it appears to be a P-Celtic language akin to Brythonic, of course what we have to remember is that modern Brythonic languages could be classed as "Neo-Brythonic", they undergo heavy influence from Latin (including what some suggest was a situation where Latin speaking Romano-British switched to speaking Brythonic, leading to phonological changes etc.) -- it's possible that "Picitsh" thus represents a more conservative strain of Brythonic, due to fact that Northern Britain (Eg. Scotland) never came under Roman rule, so it didn't take part in changes that would affect other Brythonic languages in 400 years after Roman conquest of Southern Britain.

If that is the case there would have been very little in way of difference between Pictish and "Archaic/Primitive" Irish (what's written on Ogham -- the language under goes dramatic change to "Old Irish" in period 400-600AD) other than the rather infamous "P"/"Q" sound change which would hardly have affected intercommunication (no more than how a Cockney and a Glaswegian would basically be able to understand each other ;) )

What we know later when the Kingdom of Alba arises out of merger of Dál Riada and Pictish kingdoms that eventually the whole area becomes Gaelicised fairly quickly, language shift between two relatively related languages is lot easier than going to a more distant language (say for example English)

It's quite possible that due to geography and fact that it was probably easier to travel by sea that basically Argyll/Western Isles remained in contact with Ireland for considerable lenght of time, resulting in dialect convergence/koine formation.

As a result the presence of "Goidelic" in western Scotland could simply be due to it forming a northern part of dialect chain without any movement ("invasion" etc.), of course if the language had prestige say in 6th century this would have led to more "standard" Old-Irish form.

With regard to geography within Scotland, I always find it interesting the spilt in distrubution of Hooded Crows vs. Carrion Crows, which is probably due to geographical/typographical boundary


With regard to archaelogy and settlement type, the argument that lack of "Ringforts" in Argyll implies no population movement is flawed as even though Ringforts are quite a diagnostic feature of Early Christian Ireland there is no evidence for their use in Ireland before about 600-700 -- in which case their absence in Argyll can't really be used.

08-01-2016, 02:56 PM
Alex Woolf has following rather interesting article:

Ancient Kindred? Dál Riata and the Cruthin

With regards to Cruthin, when they do appear in history, they speak "Old Irish" the retention of name (which basically means "British") is probably akin to how the Cambro-Norman's a thousand years later would still be called "Gall" (foreigner) even if they had been speaking Irish for 400 years in some cases etc. (1169 -> 1599)

George Chandler
08-01-2016, 06:19 PM
I was emailing back and forth with Alex Woolf a couple of years ago. He does make some very interesting and compelling arguments. I think he was pretty much pretty much on target long before the DNA results were coming in.


08-01-2016, 06:37 PM
I have Woolf's and James Frasers' books in the New Edinburgh history series. Some great stuff. Tying it into DNA, it's clear the Scotto-Irish links are there for all to see. I'm still a bit confused with my own group (L513). Larry Walker put up some great graphics over on FB which show the situation clearly. But most subclades are heavier in either Scotland or Ireland. Only L513 seems to be dead weighted (37%/39%) between Ireland and Scotland. And then with L193 downstream, you have a very Scottish subclade, with heavy representation in the western isles and Perthshire - but very surprisingly, very little shows up in modern Ireland. Given the links, this lack of presence in Ireland seems more unusual than if there was a lot of it there. Perthshire/western isles would support the theory that the Cruithin/picts were the same, if not closely connected to, the Dalriata in Scotland. And I'Ve often thought L193 must have been part of that. But then the lack of connection to Ireland...it's frustrating. That said, there are plenty of other clades which do support the hypothesis (DF21, M222, DF41 etc etc.)

George Chandler
08-01-2016, 06:47 PM
It's the "hurry up and wait" for ancient DNA results that's the hard part. The L513's are pretty interesting (in my opinion) and it will become more clear to you in time.

08-02-2016, 09:13 AM
Thanks George. Yes, L513 is something of an outlier I feel. Hard to pin down. But certainly heaviest in Ireland and Scotland - that much seems clear. The Cruithin/Pict link might be something: I reckon it is that old, and might be the remnants of a population group which came into Ireland and Scotland but not so much other areas of the isles.

08-02-2016, 10:01 AM
As an aside a gif showing the decline of Gáidhlig as a community language in Scotland from 1891 to 2011 using census data: