Blood of the Irish

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This is an article about a television documentary, not about the Irish Blood Transfusion Service. For the similarly titled song by Morrissey, see "Irish Blood, English Heart". The novel by Colm Tóibín is Bad Blood: A Walk Along the Irish Border.
Blood of the Irish
RTÉ Blood of the Irish.JPG
Genre Documentary[1]
Starring Diarmuid Gavin
Country of origin Ireland
Original language(s) English
No. of series 1
No. of episodes 2
Running time 2 X 60 minutes
Original channel RTÉ One
Original run 5 January 2009 – 12 January 2009
External links

Blood of the Irish is a two-part documentary miniseries broadcast on RTÉ One and presented by the professional gardener Diarmuid Gavin. It commenced airing on 5 January 2009 and completed broadcasting seven days later. In the documentary, Gavin sought 'the truth' about Irish genealogy.[2] Genetic research into a selection of Irish DNA and its origins was undertaken for the programme at Trinity College, Dublin and EthnoAncestry. They revealed some previously unheard ideas. An attempt was also made to extract ancient DNA from some of the oldest human remains that have to date been located within the boundaries of Ireland.

Research and Gavin's discoveries[edit]

Some new discoveries were announced as a result of the investigation. The programme examined the previously claimed[3] notion that one fifth of the modern male population living in the north-west counties are direct descendants of Niall of the Nine Hostages, the legendary high king who allegedly kidnapped the young Saint Patrick and led him to Ireland.[4] This was found to be particularly the case in County Donegal where it was discovered that five inter-county footballers out of the entire panel of thirty carried the relevant gene. Daniel O'Donnell, an internationally-renowned Irish singer and entertainer, submitted himself to for testing and it was discovered that he too was one of these descendants.

Gavin also explored a cave in Northern Spain as he attempted to locate a solid link between Ireland and migrants from the Basque region. He expressed his surprise to discover similarities in the appearances of both Irish people and those inhabiting the fishing port of Bermeo.[5] He later extracted saliva samples containing DNA from people living in the West of Ireland and sent them for analysis. Bear DNA from old bones in an Irish cave was also found to be closely related to DNA from Spanish bears leading to the conclusion that the human immigrants must have carried the bears to Ireland in their skin-covered currach-type craft as domesticated animals. No other possibility was offered for this unusual finding.

The Basques-to-Ireland theory was based on an early paper, "Hill et al." (see map at Haplogroup R1b (Y-DNA)), published in 2000, which examined 5 markers per sample. By 2009 further research in greater detail had suggested a much more complicated and layered origin for Irish male lineages, with private tests typically examining over 60 markers, which the programme makers ignored.[6]

1930s Physical Anthropology[edit]

Gavin: It's the west coast you come to if you want evidence of the first of the Irish. That's the theory anyway, though racial studies like those in the 1930s have fallen out of fashion.

The programme is uncritical in its direct linking of biology, Race and national identity. A study by racial hygienists E.A Hooton, C. W. Dupertuis and Helen Dawson from the 1930s[7] is cited in such a way as to completely ignore their attitude to human taxonomy, which would nowadays be seen as "racist".[8][9][improper synthesis?] The second programme, which aired on 12 January 2009 continued his mission.

Balaresque et al., 2010[edit]

While the programme was being finished the landmark paper Balaresque et al. was finally published in early 2010 by the Public Library of Science. This argued that the Y-chromosome similarity between most Irish and Basque men related to local population histories, and not to a common Mesolithic hunter-gatherer origin. The true origin is found to have arrived with Neolithic farmers after the Ice Age, and a common mutation from the original happens to have survived most in Irish and Basque males compared to the rest of western Europe.[10] The Basque-Irish genetic similarity therefore arose much later than the programme suggested, and was the result of genetic drift within each population, not from a prehistoric migration from Iberia to Ireland.


In 2010, Blood of the Irish won Best Documentary Series at the 7th Annual Irish Film and Television Awards (IFTA).[11] John Boland of the Irish Independent dismissed Blood of the Irish and its presenter as a "laboured effort".[12]


Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]