Long ago the
suspicion was of course that the Basques and Irish shared a
genetic connection in sharing the “party gene.” Now we’re
getting more and more confirmation. Here’s a recent story
from the Irish Times that discusses the closet relatives of
the Irish being found in Galicia and the Basque region.
The article is reproduced here in case the original is
Mon, Feb 16, 2009
ANCESTRAL LINKS: What do
pygmy shrews, badgers, mountain hares, pine martins and
Irish people have in common? All probably originally came to
Ireland on boats from northern Spain.
Our closest relatives are found
in various parts of Galicia and the Basque country according
to genetic studies led by Prof Dan Bradley of Trinity
College Dublin’s Smurfit Institute of Genetics. He presented
his research over the weekend at the American Association
for the Advancement of Science annual meeting in Chicago.
He was joined by Queen’s
University Belfast archaeologist and linguist Prof James
Mallory who talked about efforts to link these DNA studies
with the transmission of languages across western Europe.
The chair of the session was
the Government’s chief scientific adviser, Prof Patrick
Prof Bradley and colleagues
have done extensive genetic analysis into where the Irish
came from and how they got to Ireland. He studies genes
associated with the Y chromosome, a genetic inheritance that
comes via the father.
By tracking the presence of
certain Y chromosome markers he can travel back in time to
map our relatedness to others across Europe. He explained
how he had also done this with the two main species of
cattle, the familiar flat-backed cattle and the hump-backed
cattle seen in India and Africa.
The human data definitively
showed that our strongest relatedness was with the northern
Iberian peninsula, with this genetic signal strongest for
the Irish living today in the west of Ireland. These in turn
were likely the closest relatives of the migrants who
originally settled in Ireland.
Genetic studies of Irish fauna
also showed this distinctive signal, he said. “The Irish
badgers are Spanish, but the British badgers are not. The
fauna of Ireland seems to be divergent. How does one explain
this,” he asked.
The most likely explanation was
that the island was settled by migrants from northern Spain
as the glaciers that covered Ireland from the last ice age
melted away. “It seems to me that most animals in Ireland
came by boat. There seems to have been some communication
with southern Europe.”
The Book of Invasions from the
8th century talked about an invasion by the Spanish king
Milesius, he said. His group also looked for genetic
linkages between people sharing a common surname, something
passed along from the male lineage like the Y chromosome.
They found linkages that traced back, to the famous Ui Neill
kindred, from whom Niall Noigiallagh, Niall of the nine
hostages was descended.
Prof Mallory described attempts
to match up the transmission of languages with the dispersal
of DNA as people migrated across Europe. It was extremely
difficult however due to confounding influences including
language transmission via “elite dominance.”
Settled areas with a unique
language later taken over by invaders would see language
displacement, with the newcomers imposing their own
language. However, the local gene pool would remain and
would dilute the genetic influence of the newcomers.
This was possibly the reason
why when one looked for genetic evidence of the Celts in
Ireland these Celtic genes could not be found. Studies of
this dynamic has occurred in what is now Hungary showed a
mismatch between the dominant language and the dominant
genetic influence. “Modern DNA is no predictor of the modern
Hungarian language,” Prof Mallory said.