2016 AGM Professor Dan Bradley TCD Lecture

Another Chapter for the History of Ireland, and further East!
The unearthing of new evidence often causes a new wave of thinking about the past: Professor Dan Bradley, of TCD’s Department of Genetics, shed new light on the ‘history of the Irish’, as it used to be called, in his address to Finte na hÉireann’s annual general meeting in Dublin on Saturday April 16th.

In the august surroundings of the Stephen’s Green Hibernian Club, surrounded by many gems of Georgian and Victorian architecture and art (such as sumptuous drawings by Sir William Orpen), Professor Bradley upset many earlier patterns of dedicated guesswork as to where our ancestors may have, might have, or could possibly have come from. His work lies in identifying common key markers in strands of DNA extracted from partial corpses (human and animal) that have been uncovered from sites across Europe and Ireland. These new researches have shown tantalising evidence for a more heterogeneous spread of origins for the continuous waves of settlers moving into Ireland over millennia, from a variety of main centres in Continental Europe and much further East. Probably all other Clan members felt some surprise about this exposure of the origins of the Irish (as they were three, four, and five thousand years ago). In my case the origin of some of our ancestors in Basque communities in Sardinia advanced my knowledge by two stages, and illustrates the enormous complexity of the history of migration over long periods of time. It is only twenty years ago that everyday observation on a Dublin Bus showed a dramatic shift in possibilities to an entirely non-European passenger configuration. But Prof. Bradley also referred to two major genetic traits that had accompanied different waves of migration into Ireland about 4,000 years ago, and now traced by genetic examination of human remains from that period: the retained ability to digest milk into adulthood, that Irish people have, and the prevalence of haemochromatosis, causing a build up of iron in the blood, which is quite concentrated in the population of Ireland.

Many thanks are due to Professor Bradley for stripping the complexities of his science down to a level where we could all feel the excitement of new discovery and the anticipation that there is more, much more to come from this field of research.

Eoin O’Neill, in retirement, works as an Adjunct Professor in TCD’s School of Business, and represented the O’Neill’s at the AGM.