DNA tests have disproved a Scottish clan’s claims that it is descended from an Irish king.

The MacNeil clan, which hails from Barra, an island in the Hebrides, has believed for centuries that one of its ancestors is Niall of the Nine Hostages, who was King of Ireland until he died in 405AD.

In an attempt to prove the link, hundreds of cheek swabs were taken from members of the MacNeil clan living all over the world. But instead of showing they were the descendants of Irish royalty, the results revealed they actually have a Viking heritage.

Genealogists Vincent MacNeil and Alex Buchanan carried out the research for the MacNeil Surname Y-DNA project. DNA samples were taken from people living not only in Scotland but in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the US.

The DNA project carefully analysed all the samples but found they disproved the long-held belief that the clan was descended from Niall of the Nine Hostages through an Irish prince who emigrated to Scotland in the 11th century.

Vincent MacNeil, a genealogist based in Nova Scotia, said: “We can say we can re-write the history of the Clan MacNeil. We don’t have one participant from Barra that matches the O’Neills of Ireland.
“If you look at the history of the Clan MacNeils we are probably of Norse descent.”

Results reveal historic truth

He added: “Mother nature knows who we are. Oral history is wonderful and often there is truth in to. But everybody’s family history is in their DNA.”

Angus MacNeil, the MP for the Western Isles who lives on Barra, said: “The MacNeils were a notoriously pirating clan. It’s no surprise we have Norse DNA.”

Niall of the Nine Hostages, got his name for his technique of taking hostages to beat rival chieftains. He founded a dynasty which ruled over Ireland between the 5th and 10th centuries.

Alex Buchanan, who helped set up the project, said: “All MacNeils from Barra (so far tested) have Viking Y-DNA.

“They are of two types: The MacNeils of Barra who have an oral history linking them to the Chiefly line and most clansmen are in a group defined by the Y-DNA marker L165.

“The other type forms a smaller group of clansmen defined by Y-DNA marker L176.

“The Argyll MacNeils belong to a third Viking-derived group defined by Y-DNA marker L22.”

He added: “Some McNeills from Argyll, but mostly from the Glasgow region, do have Irish Y-DNA, however I think we will find that it is no more common amongst McNeills that it is amongst any other group of Scotsmen from the west of Scotland.

“Irishmen have been moving to Scotland for a very long time, there was a great influx during the industrial revolution when they came in search of employment in the factories of the Clyde region.”

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