Thursday, October 23, 2008

Niall Nóigiallach - Niall of the Nine Hostages

 
Niall Nóigiallach is a very famous man (Nóigiallach is Gaelic for "having Nine Hostages"). He was an Irish King who lived from about 350 to 405 AD. The "nine hostages" refers to hostages that he kept from each of the places that owed him allegiance.

Niall was fond of raiding the coast of Roman Britain and on one of those raids he captured a man named Maewyn Succat, who became a slave in Ireland. Succat eventually escaped, returned to Britain, and became a Christian missionary. He then went back to Ireland to convert the Irish heathens to Christianity. We know Maewyn Succat by his Christian name, Patrick, or Saint Patrick.

The reason Niall Nóigiallach is famous is because he is associated with the List of High Kings of Ireland, one of the oldest well-established genealogies in all of Europe. Anybody who connects to the lineage can trace ancestors back to about 100 AD.

Niall is also famous for another reason. DNA studies indicate that one in twelve Irish men carry a Y chromosome haplotype that traces back to Niall. The haplotype is also common in Scotland and England, and on the continent. This makes Niall one of only a handful of men who have millions of direct male descendants. (Genghis Khan was another [Genghis Khan a Prolific Lover, DNA Data Implies].)

Families that trace their ancestry back to Niall of the Nine Hostages 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.

My mother's maiden name is Doherty. We are descendants of the O'Dochartaigh's of Donegal in the north-west part Ireland. Donegal is in the Republic of Ireland not in the part of Ulster that became what is now called "Northern Ireland", which is part of the United Kingdom. Donegal is near where the most intense spot on the DNA map is located.

My mother was hoping to establish the direct connection between her ancestors and the ancient lineage leading to Niall but it hasn't been possible. That was a big disappointment because I thought it would be fun to have a known ancestor from 400 AD.

Recently I discovered that my ancestors connect to the Niall lineage through English and through Scottish lines that are completely unrelated to the Doherty's. This shows, once again, that most people in England, Scotland, and Ireland are related if you go back far enough. The fact that so many lineages connect to the Niall lineage is not as significant as you might think. It's mostly because that ancient lineage is so well known.

In my case, the connections come through Isabel de Clare, grandmother of Robert the Bruce of Scotland, and through Isabel Mar, the wife of Robert the Bruce. Niall Nóigiallach is one of my ancestors.

If your ancestors are from the British Isles, chances are pretty high that we are related if we go back 60 generations. We all have about a trillion potential ancestors back then but that's five orders of magnitude more than all the people who lived in the British Isles at that time.


33 comments:

  1. Hey, cuz! 60th cousin, that is. My surname is one of those listed, but according to the genealogies (assuming they are accurate) my Y chromosome come from his brother, so the most recent common ancestor for these names actually was Niall's father. Of course, since I have not paid for the DNA test, I do not know if I actually possess the Niall chromosome. Those with certain surnames are more likely to share a Y chromosome, but there is no guarantee of genetic relationship.

    Of course we are all related to each other if we go back far enough, as well as various historical figures, but Y chromosomes are passed only from father to son, like surnames, so you can test any male Doherty relative to see if they have the Niall chromosome. There are sites online where you can buy the test.

    The original study was published in the American Journal of Human Genetics.

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  2. Ancestor worship may be among the earliest forms of religion.

    Ancestor worship is the cultural expression of kinship ties and band affiliation. By various means (including, it seems, proclamation on blogs) this form of piety turns shared ancestors into band totems, promoting both extended kinship and band solidarity.

    For more on this perspective, see Jonathan H. Turner and Alexandra Maryanski, On the Origin of Societies by Natural Selection, Paradigm Publishers, 2008.

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  3. Here's a much more sensible (non-religious) approach to one's genes:

    http://www.personalgenomes.org/

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  4. anonymous says,

    Ancestor worship is the cultural expression of kinship ties and band affiliation. By various means (including, it seems, proclamation on blogs) this form of piety turns shared ancestors into band totems, promoting both extended kinship and band solidarity.

    You seem to have missed the point. I don't know if it's because of ignorance or stupidity.

    The point is that almost everyone with European ancestors is related to everyone else within the last 2000 years. In other words, ancestor worship is pointless, we are all kin.

    In a few hours I'll be pointing out how easily this kinship spreads to the Middle East and Africa.

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  5. I agree. Ancestor worship is pointless. But seeking high status ancestors is a (perhaps the) major motivation for genealogical research.

    "God" is "the father".

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  6. Two more of the branches of the Ui Neil are the McNeills of Ireland and the MacNeils of Barra, Colonsay, and Gigha (in the outer Hebrides of Scotland). My family is therefore apparently in the direct line of succession for the (currently non-existent) kingship of Ireland and Scotland. The current chief of the Clan Neil (Ian Roderick MacNeil, a distant cousin) is the 46th of that ilk. When his father, Robert Lister MacNeil (yes, that Lister, of carbolic acid fame) matriculated arms as the 45th chief back in the early 20th century, my grandfather was sent a letter by the Lord Lyon in Scotland, asking if he wished to dispute the claim. As doing so would have also made my granddad liable for over a century of back taxes on the ancestral estate on the isle of Barra, he declined. So it goes...

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  7. P.S. My dad has also worked out many, many generations of the family tree, going back to 379 AD. Not bad...

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  8. "My family is therefore apparently in the direct line of succession for the (currently non-existent) kingship of Ireland and Scotland."

    The proverbial anthropologist from Mars studying ethnocentricity and its attendant cultural associations among Homo sapiens would find this kind of thing very interesting.

    Isn't genealogy (as distinct from historical population genetics) an effort to set one's self apart from other groups, with all the baggage that goes along with that?
    Or is it just good fun?

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  9. So are not all people related to eve and adam if you go back far enough? (Not the biblical eve and adam)

    So we call take solace that we have common ancestors, even if information about the path since has been lost.

    Even better, this goes back many 10's of thousands of years, not just 2000.

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  10. "So we call take solace that we have common ancestors, even if information about the path since has been lost."

    "Solace" in common ancestry? But we know that all individual H. sapiens are part of a single species descended from a single population. Why does that provide "solace"?

    I wouldn't argue that common human ancestry doesn't elicit the emotion we know as "solace". It may do. But why?

    Religion and philosophy are said to provide "solace" and "comfort" too. Taking solace from common ancestry is similar to taking solace from shared religion.

    Insistence on the fact of common human ancestry is probably a good thing, on balance. It promotes social inclusiveness. But it hasn't prevented humans from engaging in genocide, ethnic cleansing, purges etc. etc. The positive emotion elicited by an awarness of ancestral solidarity ("solace") is strongly linked to the negative emotions of anger and fear.

    See Turner and Maryanski, On the Origin of Species by Natural Selection (Paradigm 2008) for more on this kind of thinking.

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  11. Donegal isn't actually in Northern Ireland - it's in the Republic of Ireland, although indeed in the geographical north ;)

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  12. "Niall is also famous for another reason. >>>DNA studies<<< indicate that one in twelve Irish men carry a Y chromosome haplotype that traces back to Niall."

    The link is to a site called "Famous DNA".

    Why do we all want to discover that we have "famous" DNA? I admit it would FEEL GOOD somehow to know I was related to Julius Caesar, say, but why? Bragging rights? Novelty?

    I think the emotional satisfaction that such knowledge might provide is the same emotional satisfaction that people get when they think of themselves as "children of God". It is a RELIGIOUS feeling.

    But perhaps H. sapiens has a desire or drive to experience that feeling. People who have been deprived of knowledge of their immediate or ancestral pasts (adoptees and descendants of people who were enslaved, for example) long to know where they came from and from whom. Sometimes there are good medical reasons, but mostly the motivation stems from emotional centres.

    In these kinds of human longings we can see the emotional (and evolutionary) origin of religion.

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  13. I wonder more than a bit about the anonymous - it isn't enough to be interested in our ancestors for the sake of being interested in our ancestors? Where's the curiosity?

    Back on topic, I wonder if there's a way to look at the distribution of sex linked markers and use them to find events and individuals with no a priory knowledge of the region's history. It makes sense that wars would infrequently leave a genetic signature - too often in human history, to the victor went the spoils. But I could see this being somewhat difficult, as areas likely to have been in conflict (and likely to have these super-males) are also likely to be related to begin with.

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  14. "It isn't enough to be interested in our ancestors for the sake of being interested in our ancestors? Where's the curiosity?"

    The question I ask is: why do we seek famous ancestors? Why are we curious about their existence or not?

    People aren't just curious. Their curiosity is always motivated. What motivates curiosity about genealogy? I've noticed this in my own family: As people get older they become more interested in their ancestors. Why? Are they seeking a kind of immortality in the idea of genetic transmission? My younger relatives aren't nearly as interested.

    And why am I curious about these motivations? Because I am curious about the evolutionary psychology of H. sapiens. And why am I curious about that? Because I think knowledge of human nature and behaviour could help us solve some of our problems.

    Or maybe I'm just displaying....

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  15. "People aren't just curious. Their curiosity is always motivated."

    How boring, drab, and uninteresting. I'm naturally curious. I've dropped batteries into cups of water, just because I wondered what would happen. I've veered off trails, because I was curious what was out of sight. I sequenced bits of my genome, just because I thought it'd be neat to know what's there. And I know I'm not the only one to be interested in the world around us.

    The world is a cool place. It's five times more fascinating than any of us think it is. It's filled with neat little bits, and cool facts about the past and about the future. If you want to split hairs, it's because my brain chemistry has predisposed me to receiving some sort of jolt of pleasurable feelings when I learn something new and fascinating. But what the heck is wrong with that, eh?

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  16. It is odd that for someone so curious you appear to be entirely incurious about your own motivations. Do you think curiosity is genetic?

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  17. Solace:

    I observe that people take comfort in relationships. I observe that people take comfort in knwoing about ancestors. My son for example likes to hear stories about his great grandfather. We live in a world with more than 6 billion people, all releated to each other

    No matter how hard we might try at times to find distinctions to hate, it is more important to understand our relationships.

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  18. Unless I'm missing something, there's no evidence that you're descended from Niall, only that you're descended from him [i]or one of his Y-chromosomal ancestors[/i].

    Or have the genealogists demonstrated unequivocally that there was some mutation in Niall's Y chromosome and that his specific Y lineage is distinguishable?

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  19. Peter says,

    Unless I'm missing something, there's no evidence that you're descended from Niall, only that you're descended from him [i]or one of his Y-chromosomal ancestors[/i].

    You're missing something, especially the part where I said,

    Recently I discovered that my ancestors connect to the Niall lineage through English and through Scottish lines that are completely unrelated to the Doherty's. ...

    In my case, the connections come through Isabel de Clare, grandmother of Robert the Bruce of Scotland, and through Isabel Mar, the wife of Robert the Bruce. Niall Nóigiallach is one of my ancestors.

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  20. "I observe that people take comfort in relationships. I observe that people take comfort in knwoing about ancestors. My son for example likes to hear stories about his great grandfather."

    I would only point out that such interest in ancestors often has a very strong ethnic and ideological undercurrent that isn't aways beneficial. It can be a way of indoctrinating children into beliefs of "blood ties" etc. that form the basis of later biases, often unconcious ones.

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  21. I read year's ago in How to Live with a Cat that Succat could be translated as either "the good warrior" or "the happy cat", or I suppose vice versa.

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  22. As you go farther back it becomes low odds that you share even one chromosome with the ancestor--except, perhaps, a Y chromosome. And you get to a point where each person in the past population is theoretically ancestral to either all people now, or none of them.

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  23. R1b1b2a1a2f2 This subclade is defined by the presence of the marker M222. It is particularly associated with the Irish and Scots. In this case, the relatively high frequency of this specific subclade among the population of certain counties in northwestern Ireland may be due to positive social selection, as it is suggested to have been the Y-chromosome haplogroup of the Uí Néill dynastic kindred of ancient Ireland
    I am a decendant of Niall of the Nine hostages one of 3 millon i have been tested any questions?

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  24. My surname is listed also - Gormley. I find all this very fascinating - not out of ancestor worship but just because I love my Irish heritage, and I still have relatives (Catholic) in Omagh in County Tyrone. Now how did they wind up there from Donegal? Does anyone know a blood type for Niall? I guess there is no way to trace the female lineage when one's father is deceased?

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  25. I also have just found out by testing my Paternal DNA the following that I am R1b1b2a1a2f2 with marker M222.
    Which, I find very intersting. I did know about my family history. Thus I can now pass on this information.

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  26. Though my last name is not any of the above (McKown), I also am related to Naill. I found this out through Y-DNA testing. My Haplogroup is R1b with 13 25 14 11 11 13 12 12 12 13 14 29 17 9 10 11 11 25 15 18 30 15 16 17 17 11 11 19 23 16 16 17 17 38 39 12 12 My testing was done by, Family Tree DNA to the 37 marker.

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    1. Bob, this is due in large part the how names are pronounced versus how they are recorded in history. I believe, based on your genetic results at the 37 marker level that you are descended from Conn, through Art mac Cuinn and a brother of Niall, as much as a descendant of Niall. MacKown can be interpreted to become a phonetic equivalent to Cuinn in some areas of Scotland and in the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina, Tennesee and West Virginia in the United States. The spelling and meaning are that of Quinn which as you move away from the North Carolina mountains north to the Alleghenies of Northern Virginia, Delaware and Pennsylvania you find the name expressed as either McGwyn, McGown and sometimes as McConn. All you have to do is make an attempt to isolate someone with that dialect and ask them to pronounce the name QUINN. I promise, you will be astounded.

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  27. Well now, very lovely site!
    Although a Rooney (from Down, I believe), my haplotype reads r 1b 1b 2a 1b 5b...M222+. It appears that Nialls genes run in my clan as well.

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  28. I'm related too. i just found out not that long ago that my great grandpa's mother's maden name was McLaughlin, one of the clans with disputed claim to the High Kingship of Ireland and Scotland. Her father came from Ireland to America, and eventually ended up in the Plains. I havent really gotten back much farther than that but we are working on it. Any tips on how I could trace backwards? For free? I'm sixteen and havent found a job yet so that would be difficult. I would appreciate the help. And biblically speaking we all come from Adam and Eve and then Noah, his wife, and his sons and theirs. so we are all related from those common ancestors.

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  29. All this prattle about wanting to find a famous ancestor misses the point. If an ancestor was NOT famous, we'd have never heard of him and he'd probably have been lost to history. It's only famous ones we are likely to find.

    - Another Anonymoose (and allegedly a Niall descendant)

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  30. We are Doughertys also and our 12 marker DNA was off by 1 of at one of the 12 markers. This means that Niall and our family were both descendants of someone even further back in time. Check out Hart's Pedigree of The Irish Nation for a list of hundreds of predecessors of Niall. While I am not sure how this ancient history would stand up to today's DNA standards let alone the academic standards for Historians, at least it puts names on the trek of the West Atlantic male from Africa, to the Near East, to western Europe (Spain) and then to Ireland.
    As to the perils of ancestor worship, most descendants of NW Ulster immigrants to America are painfully aware of the
    Of the suffering and oppression these tortured souls endured over the last 350 years and few will find "high status." Maybe if these armchair philosophers look at their own smooth hands and then spread their fingers so they could look back at all of the rough and gnarled hands that preceded theirs, they would have a little empathy of what those who came before them went through to allow those smooth hands to so easily criticize.

    American O'Doherty

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  31. Yes, it can get creepy.

    The ONeils, OBriens and other clans have re-written some history, things do not match up, maybe why some pages were hidden which contain the linage and why they tried to control the monasteries.

    Not many people ever list hUallachan or hUallachain

    There are 2 separate hUallachain clans one is close to Gallagher and like Doughertys, 12 marker DNA was off by 1. One is not m222.

    Allach ... god, probably forest-water or water god, biblical flood probably made it the dominant god, so the royal line from after the flood used it.
    The clan name is Failge so Fail... Ireland
    Fail also is "ring" or "armband"... At our fort a body was found in the bog that was wearing an armband. It even gets weird... in the bible Jacob fashioned his rods to create ring patterns on the cows (he was obsessed by it).

    (Genesis 28:17-22 - Bethel / Lia Fail / Stone of Destiny)

    Stones of destiny are all over where they went... Greece/Sweden/Wales, etc

    Fail is also one of the cities founded in the bible.

    Many Kings and towns with alla in name between Iraq and Ireland
    Bishops with alla
    ... keeps going, even the name Allan is common.

    I think they came up round the top of Europe (Belgium/Sweden) and the second group round the bottom.

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  32. It will be interesting when someone works it out properly, I hope they find the missing pages. Anyway I doubt they were living on the banks of the Nile in Egypt as the O'Neils wiki says, ahaha. There are missing lines of families above O'Neil, they are just a side branch.

    There were no surnames earlier, so you can make many guesses, I can take llach and get something like this...
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lachish ?
    or somewhere from Babylon

    According to an Israeli text I found (some dude deciphering the bible translation mistakes (of which there are many), LIach may be based on an ancient word for Lily Pad, to describe a body of trapped water.

    Another interesting path (that seems to lead everywhere, most cultures have it somewhere)... Bulls seem to be a feature of the bible.. bi Bull, lol. One of the first religions in Africa have the earth resting on the two horns of a bull.

    An early god maybe is eebe.. Sheba... eve (corrupted? like The God Sin, became evil sin?)
    eebe is waaj ... (sky-god), but sounds like "water" to me.

    To work it out you would need to look at every language down to rift languages, but then it becomes hard to workout who learned what from who.

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