Wanted! Limerick men with Viking blood for tests

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By Anne Sheridan
Published on Wednesday 10 October 2012 08:00

Limerick: known to have been a vital Viking trading centre

IF you ever wondered whether you are you descended from the Vikings or the Normans, now is the time to find out.

A network of academics led by Dr Catherine Swift of Mary Immaculate College, and Dr Turi King of the Department of Genetics, University of Leicester are using scientific techniques and the traditional tools of the historian in an attempt to identify what percentage of the Irish population are descended from Vikings. 

Volunteers with certain surnames – including English, Stokes and Noonan, amongst many others – will be tested at Fennessey’s pub, New Street, Sunday, October 21, at 12 noon. 

In addition to Limerick, the study is also being replicated in Galway and Wexford to discover information on medieval patterns of migration and family movements between the major towns of Ireland.

They are also hoping to examine the extent to which the Vikings in different parts of the country intermarried with the native Irish. To do this, the group, have identified specific surnames which are found in the medieval records and townland names of Limerick city and county.

As the researchers are primarily interested in Y chromosomes, they will only collect samples from men. A swab of cheek cells will be taken to extract DNA from this. Various tests will be done on the Y chromosome DNA, and in some cases other parts of your DNA, to look at patterns of variation.

The information received will be kept strictly confidential and if it is ever published in scientific papers, it will be completely anonymous.

See leicestersurnamesproject.org.uk for the surnames of those they wish to apply.

Viking origins of Limerick.
The earliest record of vikings at Limerick is in 845, reported by the Annals of Ulster, and there are intermittent reports of vikings in the region later in the 9th century.[6] Permanent settlement on the site of modern Limerick had begun by 922.[7] In that year a Viking jarl or prince called Tomrair mac Ailchi—Thórir Helgason—led the Limerick fleet on raids along the River Shannon, from the lake of Lough Derg to the lake of Lough Ree, pillaging ecclesiastical settlements. Two years later, the Dublin vikings led by Gofraid ua Ímair attacked Limerick, but were driven off.[8] The war between Dublin and Limerick continued until 937 when the Dubliners, now led by Gofraid’s son Amlaíb, captured Limerick’s king Amlaíb Cenncairech and for some reason destroyed his fleet.[9] However, no battle is actually recorded and so a traditional interpretation has been that Amlaíb mac Gofraid was actually recruiting Amlaíb of Limerick for his upcoming conflict with Athelstan of England,[10] which would turn out be the famous Battle of Brunanburh. The 920s and 930s are regarded as the height of Norse power in Ireland and only Limerick rivaled Dublin during this time.

The last Norse king of Limerick was Ivar of Limerick, who features prominently as an enemy of Mathgamain mac Cennétig and later his famous brother Brian Boru in the Cogad Gáedel re Gallaib.[11] He and his allies were defeated by the Dál gCais, and after slaying Ivar Brian would annex Norse Limerick and begin to make it the new capital of his kingdom. The power of the Norsemen never recovered, and they reduced to the level of a minor clan; however, they often played pivotal parts in the endless power struggles of the next few centuries.

Brian Boru’s son, Donough, was routed by Diarmait mac Maíl na mBó in the year 1058 when Limerick was burned, a punishment he repeated five years later. A year later Diarmait beat Donough again forcing him to flee overseas and installing Turlough instead.[12] Obviously Limerick was of great importance as evidenced by being a contentious issue between neighbouring chieftains and foreigners who burned and pillaged the city.[13] Brian Boru’s sons were usually called Kings of north Munster though their reigns were rather disturbed until 1164 when Donnchad mac Briain became King of Munster. His reign was successful, founding monasteries and nunneries, constructing several monuments, including a church on the Rock of Cashel, and in his grant bestowing his Limerick Gothic palace to the church he styled himself King of Limerick.[13] However the Danes were still a powerful force who were able to obtain four sequential Danish bishops concentrated by the Archbishop of Canterbury not subservient to the See of Cashel.[13]
King John’s Castle, built in the 13th century, lies alongside the River Shannon. Thomond Bridge (on the left of this photograph), from the 19th century, stands on the site of an earlier bridge.
The arrival of the Normans to the area in 1173 changed everything. Domnall Mór Ua Briain, the last styled King of Limerick, burned the City to the ground in 1174 in a bid to keep it from the hands of the new invaders. After he died in 1194, the Normans finally captured the area in 1195, under the leadership of Prince John. In 1197, King Richard I of England granted the city its first charter,[4] and its first Mayor, Adam Sarvant, ten years before London.[14] A castle, built on the orders of King John and bearing his name, was completed around 1200. Under the general peace imposed by Norman rule, Limerick prospered as a port and trading centre. By this time the city was divided into an area which became known as “English Town” on King’s Island surrounded by high walls, while another settlement, named “Irish Town”, where the Irish and Danes lived, had grown on the south bank of the river. Around 1395 construction started on walls around Irishtown that were not completed until the end of the 15th century.[15]

A nineteenth century romantic depiction of Viking warriors.
“Limerick is a very interesting location for our project as it is known to be a vital Viking trading centre,” said Dr Swift.

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