Clan Donald’s DNA project, now nine years old, is among the largest family-based genetic genealogy project in the world. On February 25, 2011, it reached the 1000 participant level.
In March 2004, Clan Donald Genetic Project announced a 25-marker signature for identifying descendants of Somerled, ancestor to many MacDonalds, MacDougalls, and MacAllisters, including our Clan Chiefs. Somerled was an important figure in the history of the western highlands of Scotland. He died in battle in 1164 while attacking Glasgow with 160 ships drawn from his own territories and from Dublin. His descendants controlled much of the west coast of Scotland and the Hebrides for more than 500 years. For the first time, this website now identifies a 37-marker signature of Somerled and, with the express permission of our chiefs, shows the mutation of various key lines within the worldwide leadership of Clan Donald. For a discussion of Somerled's ancestry see Before Somerled.
The webmaster for these genetic project pages is Professor J. Douglas McDonald, of the University of Illinois, who is a project co-administrator. The project originator and co-author of this webpage is Mark MacDonald, National Historian for Clan Donald U.S.A. and head project administrator.
Mark initially conceived this project in the summer of 1999 when reading a Wall Street Journal article in which Y-chromosome markers were being used to trace the ancestry of the priestly class of Israel back toward a single source, historically identified as Aaron, brother of Moses. Since Clan Donald in Scotland and Ireland had its own diaspora in which our ancestors emigrated either voluntarily or by force around the world, he wanted to create a project which could both help individual clan members who could trace to the waters edge 200 to 250 years ago but could not cross the water, and provide a means for testing the accuracy of various parts of the history of Clan Donald, the clan’s descent from Somerled, its relationship to the Scottish kingdom of Dalriada founded before 500AD, its relationship to Colla Uais, High King of Ireland circa 330AD and its relationship to both the O’Neills high kings of Ireland and their O’Donnell cousins.
In 2004, we issued a press release containing a 25-marker signature of Somerled which not only demonstrated that he was of Norse paternal descent but which strongly pointed to Norway for his recent ancestors. This signature begins 13-25-15-11-11-14-12-12-10-14-11-31-16-8 (in the marker order used by Family Tree DNA). See DNA Explained for an explanation of genetic signatures. To see how we deduced Somerled's DNA profile see After Somerled.
In February 2004, this project had announced another important Dalriadic ancestral genetic signature which we had identified as the signature of “Colla Uais, father of Dalriada.” The kingdom of Dalriada was the predecessor to the medieval kingdom of Scotland. This signature which begins 13-24-14-10-11-14-12-12-12-13-13-30-18, has subsequently been recognized as the modal (most frequent) signature within the Scottish highlands. It has variously been referred to as Dalriadic modal and Scots47. It is one of the largest R1b groups in Clan Donald.
Clan Donald has historically associated itself with Clan Colla in Ireland named for the three Colla brothers who allegedly conquered Ulster in 330AD and whose descendants had created a kingdom called Oriel with holdings spread throughout Ulster from Derry through Cavan and Fermanagh in Ireland. We will explain below why that initial identification appears to have been in error but which still leaves Clan Donald heavily descended from the founders of Scottish Dalriada and from Colla, as well as Somerled. This combined analysis of genetics and history is not an “official” history of Clan Donald but rather a statement of our current best theories how to tie the data to the history.
This finding coupled with extensive discussions with Irish historians who strongly assert that Cairbre Riada grandfather of Fergus, Angus and Lorne was not descended from Colla Uais, has led to a shift of this interpretation concerning the probable source of various groups within Clan Donald. Mark still believes that the Dalriadic royal line carried the “Colla” genetic signature but that the source of our descent from Clan Colla comes through Irish followers of Godfrey MacFergus. Click Other Ancestry for this historical analysis of the non-Somerled part of the Clan Donald.
Subsequently research by Moore et. al. at Trinity College Dublin [Moore 2006] identified the signature of Neill (Niall) of the Nine Hostages who was considered to be a paternal line cousin of Colla Uais. The “Neill” line belongs to the signature 13-25-14-11-11-12-12-12-13-14-29-16 which is strongly concentrated in northwestern Ireland. A substantial fraction of Clan Donald belongs to this group.
In addition to our discoveries concerning the medieval history of the Clan Donald, the DNA results allow us to make some statements about where our ancestors were living long ago, even during the Ice Ages. These are discussed in Prehistory.
Clan Donald DNA Website version 1.3.0, June 20, 2011.
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