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Friday, 9 May 2014

Vennicni, Feni and Donegal

Vennicni, Feni and Donegal

In this article I will be exploring the terms Vennicni, Feni and Gwynedd in relation to the early medieval tribes of Donegal, particularly the Cenel Conaill and examine the legend of the Ui Neills. I will endeavour to show that the Vennicni were the forerunners of the Feni who were in turn the Cenel Conaill of Donegal. In doing so I hope to confirm the work of Brian Lacey who has suggested that the Northern Ui Neill were a fabrication and that the Cenel Conaill and Cenel Eoghan were always resident in the area from pre-history as recent DNA findings may confirm. I invite comment to help me improve this article and increase my understanding of the etymology and DNA behind it.


The people of Donegal gave us our earliest medieval records of Ireland and Britain in the form of the Iona Chronicle which concentrated its material on the tribes of the Cenel Conaill, Cenel Eoghan, the Dal Riata and Picts of Scotland. Extra material was added anachronistically to the chronicle using sources such as Adamnan's seventh century vita of St. Columcille who lived in the sixth century and king lists such as in Baille Chuin of the seventh century. Adamnan himself was of the Cenel Conaill as was Columcille. 

The chronicle found it's way to Ulster and other places by the mid eighth century where it was continued and became various annals such as the Annals of Ulster, Clonmacnoise, Tigernach and Innisfallon, the first of which became an eventual source of the Welsh Annales Cambrai. Donegal in the early medieval period would not have been called this, but had names such as Fochla (the north), probably saint Patrick's woods of Foclut where he became a slave for 7 years. Leth Cuin (Conns half) was another term for the tribes of Fochla, supposed ancestors of the great Niall of the Nine Hostages. Still later, by the ninth century the area was called Ailech after the Cenel Eohgan had taken control and made the Grianan of Ailech their base. The north of course would also have encompassed much of Ulster.

The tribes of Donegal then went onto conquer much of Ulster (Derry and Tyrone) and pushed into Connaught and Meath claiming the over kingship of Ireland at Tara. These tribes became known as the 'northern Ui Neill', a fabrication born of their merging with the real Ui Neill of the South. Charles Thomas Edwards and Brian Lacey have started the process of unraveling this pseudo-history with Lacey suggesting that the 'Ui Neill of the north' were possibly related to the other Cruithin (Pictish) tribes of Ulster:

"However, it is almost a certainty....that most of the so-called northern UiNeill did not come into Donegal from outside at all, at least as recently as the fifth century as is normally suggested. Rather, they probably emerged instead from within the existing native people of that territory. It's also very unlikely, despite the later widespread use of the name UiNeill, that these people had any connection whatever with the eponymous Niall Noigiallach. Instead it now seems clear that at least most of them were later attached to the UiNeill by fictional genealogical links - as it were, re-invented with fresh (false) identities, as part of a newly constructed 'national' ruling elite........could the Cenel Conaill and the Cenel Eoghan,therefore, or either of these groups individually, have belonged to the Cruithin themselves? “

Donegal in the early medieval period would have been a country of woods, forests, mountains and clearings, with most settlements being in the rich soil of the river valleys and coastal lowland areas. The earliest mention of the area comes from Ptolemy, writing in around 150CE who designates this area as belonging to the Vennicni. Loch Foyle was noted as the Vidoua. Next to them along the coast north eastwards were the Robogdi and south-west of the Vennicni were the Nagnate and Erdini or Erpedani.

The early tribes of Ireland mentioned by Ptolemy must have been there a fair while for their names to have been noted by cartographers and travelers of these times. We do not really know where Ptolemy acquired his information but the eastern tribes of Ireland appear to have been Celtic tribes from Gaul and Britain which included the Menapi and Brigantes. The western seaboard tribes appear to be predominantly indigenous as their names and recent DNA studies show. At what point these Gallic and British tribes made their migrations to Eastern Ireland is a debatable question.

When Caesar arrived in Britain in around 54BC there were many Gallic tribes already settled in the coastal regions such as the Belgae and Parisi and Gallic kings were said to have ruled both sides of the Channel. From this we could then push back the arrival of Gallic tribes to Britain and Ireland to 100BC + and possibly 200BC with the spread of La Tene culture into Britain and Ireland. I think all we can say is that there would have been much coming and going between Gaul, Britain, Spain and Ireland during the Iron Age of Northern Europe.

Did the Irish of the eighth century CE have access to Ptolemy's map of Britain and Ireland? There's a good chance they did as some of the names in the Lebhor Gabala Érenn (The Book of the Taking of Ireland) are just too close to the names of Ptolemy's given tribes. If they didn't then the power of their druids to relate stories over hundreds of years must have been incredible.


I have mentioned the recent DNA studies that have been undertaken in Ireland. Although these studies are still in their infancy we can come to some general conclusions but I would like to add that this area is still fraught with difficulties so I can only give generalities. Scientists are able to identify a particular genetic pattern in the Y chromosome of the Irish - a genetic marker known as haplogroup R1b. This was found not only in a high percentage of Irish men but also in most of the population of Western Europe who have carried this gene for over 3000 years. Over time Haplogroup R1b was diluted by intermixing with other populations and is now found in relatively fewer people throughout Europe. In Ireland 85% of men have this marker and in western Ireland, especially Connaught 98% of the population carry this gene, which is a subgroup of R1b called R1b-M269.

This means the peoples of western Ireland have remained genetically isolated from the intermixing of populations that occurred throughout the rest of Europe. In effect these peoples have been in Ireland since the late bronze age, when they first crossed over from Britain, without any significant dilution. So the ancient tribes of Ireland were of the same stock as the Bronze age peoples of Britain. They were all 'Pretani' in the eyes of Diodorus Siculus who wrote in around 50BC... “those of the Pretani who inhabit the country called Iris”. Caesar also knew of Britain and Ireland as the 'Prettanic Isles'. It was his innovation to call us Britanni. 

In the UK about 70% carry the R1b marker and within this are subgroups that indicate origins for various peoples. R1b-S145 appears to be the DNA of the ancient Britons themselves, the Pretani making up about 25%. R1b-S21 are the Germanics making up another 15%. Hunter Gatherer's - R1b-S116 make up 9%, Picts come in at 5% - R1b-S530 and Irish at around 8% with R1b-M222.
The above subgroup R1b-M222 (a subclade of M269, R-P312) is prevalent in Ireland and Britain. This was at first thought to represent the Ui Neills of Ireland and hence all the descendants of Niall of the Nine Hostages. However DNA testing has shown that although it is fairly common among those with some Ui Neill surnames, such as O'Doherty, it is not common amongst most of the Ui Neills themselves with only 20% of men in Donegal having this gene. It is in fact more prevalent in Ulster, Mayo, northern Britain and Scotland (excluding Argyll). This suggests that these peoples had common ancestors thousands of years ago before Niall was even a twinkle in his mothers eye and that the Ui Neills of the North were nothing of the sort! The Ui Neill gene might be R1b-S668 but it's still too early to tell as these may be Cenel Conaill.


Feni and Vennicni

Now let us return to the Feni and Vennicni of Donegal. The etymology of Feni is now established since Eric Hamp's study in 1992 entitled Goídil, Féni, Gŵynedd in the Proceedings of the Harvard Celtic Colloquium, Vol. 12. Koch agreed with his findings in his paper Celts, Britons, and Gaels—Names, Peoples, and Identities (2000) and Celtic Culture: A Historical Encyclopedia of 2006. Hamp proposed that Feni reflects the absorption of *d before *n in early Celtic which allows the construction of Feni as *wēniῑ: *ueid(h)-n-ioi (wednioi). He came to the conclusion that the name Gwynedd was related as the earlier forms were Gwinet and Venedotia from *Ueneda. Gwynedd meaning a 'collectivity of trees/forest'. He also linked the Welsh 'Goidel' (*ueid(h)eloi) as a related term meaning 'the feni who lived in the forests'. Also the Fiana (*ueidh-n-a) a 'group belonging to the woods and forests'. Feni then means 'the tribe that inhabit the woods and forests', this becoming the 'hunters of the woods and forests' and hence those hunters, skilled with spear and bow became the warrior class of the Feni and Fiana, the old Irish word 'feinnid' 'hunter, warrior' summing it up nicely.

Both Hamp and Koch ignore some other tribes apart from Gwynedd that carry the same root. The Veneti of Armorica and Venedi and Feni of the Baltic regions mentioned by Tacitus. The first two of these appear to be directly linked, with the last, the Feni of the northern Baltic doubtful. Also ignored are the Vennicni of Donegal and Venicones of Fife. Ptolemy's version 'Ouennicni' – Vennicni reflects a perfectly natural early spelling of the name in the orthography of the time which continued for hundreds of years. Our task is to tie in the Vennicni with the Feni, why? Because the Feni are directly linked with the Cenel Conaill and if Lacey is correct this people have lived in the region for thousands of years.

The Feni or Fir Feni – were, according to Irish texts of the eighth century onwards, quite distinct from those of the Ulaid (Ulster -the Cruithne/Picts) and those who were Laighin (Leinster – Britons and Gallic tribes):

Batur tri primcinela in Eri.: Feini ocus Ulaidh ocus Laighin (Gaileoin)” -the three principle peoples of Ireland – the Feni, Ulaid and Laighin.

In this sense Feni may here represent all of the Irish tribes apart from those of Ulster and Leinster, ie the tribes of Connaught, Donegal, Meath and possibly Munster. Indeed in some cases Feni did later come to mean 'the men of Ireland'. However other writings do link the Connachta with the Feni and in two quatrains on the battle of Ballyshannon between the Ui Neill and the Leinstermen, 'the men of Leth Cuinn' mustered by Aed, king of Ailech are referred to as 'Fir Feni'. 'Leth Cuinn'- 'Conns half', was another name for the tribes of Cenel Conail and Donegal. Koch put's it like this :

"In this formulation it seems that Feni means the peoples, whose rulers were reckoned in the genealogies as Sil Cuin (descendants of the legendary Conn Cetchathach). The rulers of Connaught and the pre-eminent Ui Neill dynasties were thus included."

This attempt to separate the peoples of Ireland may contain a kernel of truth.

To tie in the Vennicni, who in the second century CE were living in exactly the same place that the Feni Cenel Conaill were in sixth century we need some evidence. That evidence comes in the form of the name of the river where the Cenel Conail lived, the river Finn. The river Finn empties into the Foyle on its way to the sea and it's valleys were home to the Cenel Conaill. It's seventh century form reported by Adamnan in his Vita of Saint Columcille was 'Fenda' which betrays it's earlier form 'Veneda' which is the same root as Feni/Gwyned (Oueneda) as described above, essentially 'the river of the forest'. So we now know that the initial 'Venni' of Ptolemy's Vennicni represents *wēniῑ. The termination 'ni' appears to derive from the collective ending '-inion', later as 'ni/ne'. The 'c/g' becoming silent. With this we can do away with any semantic relationship with the Pictish 'Venicones' of Scotland although the first part may be another form of Feni or it may represent, or was represented as  'cenn' or 'pen' – 'head' as these Picts were later remembered in Arthurian myth as 'Dog Heads; 'cones' being interpreted as 'cun' - dog. Interestingly Irish myth also has the Irish Arthur - Mac Erca fight 'dog heads' as well.

We need not posit that any of these Veneti tribes were related (except perhaps on an ancient DNA level), merely that they used a common language that spanned the aboriginal areas of Britain, Ireland and Europe. Those of Gwynedd though do appear to have been Irish interlopers. The Ordovices had been the tribe of that area in Roman times and Welsh myth relates that Cunedda and his sons came from the north to remove the Irish (Feni) of Gwynedd.

Loch Foyle and the river Foyle named by Ptolemy as 'Vidoua' provides the final piece of evidence. Hamp stated at the end of his work that it was 'gratifying to find a noun *Uidh-u – 'Woods'' which of course is directly 'Vidu'. So Ptolemy's 'Vidoua' (Ouidoua) is the river Finn and may be evidence of Hamp's noun. Vidoua then appears to represent the Q Celtic? 'vidh' with a termination 'oua' possibly meaning 'river' via Celtic 'abona' (abhainn, abhann, aibhneacha /aunʲ, aun̪ˠ, ˈavʲnʲəxə/ "river"). So the River was originally called the Vidoua at its mouth, inland the Veneda, then it gave its name to the people living alongside it (the Feni), then the river name changed in time to Fenda, Finne, Finny and eventually Finn. The modern rendering of 'Loch Febhail' appears to be related to Proto-Celtic *WEWLO-, 'lips, mouth', which gives gwefl in Welsh (Pat McKay, A Dictionary of Ulster Place-Names, pp. 99-100).

So we are left with a fascinating proposition - the Vennicni were the Feni – 'the hunter tribe of the forest'. Lacey and the DNA studies are correct, the Cenel Conaill have always lived there. There was no 'Ui Neill' movement north into Donegal except in later times by the Cenel Cairpre briefly. The aggression was always southwards by the Cenel Conaill and the Cenel Eoghan their cousins. The Cenel Eoghan however may have been of the Airthir of the Airghialla and it may be their movement against the Cenel Conaill which is remembered (see below).

The UI' Neill 

So were the Cenel Conaill and Cenel Eoghan Ui Neill? One of the earliest mentions (apart from the annals at 621) of the Ui Neills is in Ambra Coluimb Cille, a poem possibly of the early seventh century which describes some of Columcille's ancestors. In this he is described as a "purebred descendant of Conall" which must indicate Columncilles fathers side and if Niall was involved he would surely have linked to him instead. The Conall here is Conall Gulban, supposed son of Niall.

Columcille is also described as a 'son of Conns offspring' presumably relating to Conn Cetcathach an ancestor of Niall.  If as suggested, Conall Gulban was a fabricated addition to Niall's ancestors, the descendent of Niall must have been on Columcille's mothers side. His mother was Eithne who is said to be a descendent of the Cenel Cairpre and this may be where the Niall ancestor lies as Cairpre was a son of Niall. Lacey has pointed out that some of these references in Ambra to Niall were actually missing in the 17th century manuscript and that it was later glosses that filled in the missing parts, making this document suspect for proof of connections to Niall in the early seventh century. Lacey (2004):

"However, Fergus Kelly pointed out that 'the only complete version [of the poem] is found at pp. 107-114 of G50, a 17th century manuscript in the National Library of Ireland'. Kelly advocated a seventh century 'date of composition' but adds that the glosses, on which some of the significant reconstructions of the missing sections depend, 'are in Middle Irish'. Crucially in the manuscript, all of line 9d is missing except for the word 'Neill'. The phrase, 'molfas colum ua neil, comes from the later glosses..."

Also in the seventh century was Tirechans Collectanea. He is most interested in the southern Ui Neills as indicated by Catherine Swift (1991)

" Unlike the branches of the Ui Neill so far discussed, however, the Cenel Conaill of Donegal appear to stand outside Tirechan's immediate concerns.They are neither blessed, as in the case of Conall Cremthainne, nor acknowledged as supreme ruler, as in the case of Loiguire, nor condemned, as in the cases of Coirpre and Fiachu's descendants."

For Tirechan writing in the mid seventh century, the four sons of Niall were "Conallum filium Neill, Coirpriticus filius Neill, Loiguire filius Neill and Fechach filii Neill". (Conall, Coirpre, Loagaire and Fiacha), There is no mention of Conal Gulban or Eoghan. Lacey has suggested that Conal Gulban was a later fabricated genealogical link to Niall. The Conall above of course is Conall Cremthainne, who in Terechan's eyes was the only ruler of a regnum (kingdom) in that time other than Benignus.

In the same work Tirechan however does mention the Cenel Conaill of Donegal. He mentions two kings (reges) of Donegal called Fergus and Fothad who granted the site of Raith Chungi in Mag Sereth to St Assicus of Ail Find. These two in later genealogy appear to have been conflated into the one figure of Fergus Cennfota son of Conal Gulban. Unfortunately Tirechan does not link any of these "filiorum Conill" as decendents of Niall. It's as though the 'sons of Conill' are a separate group to the 'sons of Niall'.

In Muirchu's seventh century life of Saint Patrick the Ui Neills are also mentioned, with Niall being described as "the one from whom was descended the royal stock of almost the whole Island" with Loagaire again being paramount and described as 'emperor of the barbarians'.

The next person to mention the Cenel Conaill is of course Adamnan, writing slightly later in around the late seventh century. Adamnan himself, as well as Columcille were of the Cenel Conaill and so if he was linked in any way with the Ui Neill we would expect him to mention it. He puts words into Columcille's mouth that states he is a descendent of Niall where he mentions Abbot Comgall (founder and first abbot of Bangor in the Ards of Ulster), - "Nellis Nepotes et Cruthini populi" - " a descendent of Niall and the people of the Cruithni" in relation to Columcilles ancestors and Comgall's who were going to war with each other. As we have seen, Conall Gulban was most likely a fabricated addition to Niall's ancestors, so the descendent of Niall must have been on his mothers side as mentioned above.

The inescapable truth is as Lacey suggests, the sons of Conall, who had always lived in Donegal since ancient times were later linked to Niall with the Cenel Eoghan to legitimise their anachronistic claims to the kingship of Tara. The reason for engineering this legitimacy was that the southern Ui Neill dynasties had ruled Tara in the fifth and sixth centuries with interlopers probably from the Ulster and British tribes (Coroticus being an example). That meant making Conall Gulban, another son of Niall.

Lawrence Maney is also unraveling this pseudo-history of the early Ui Neills and sums up the early legends at the end of his work  - Rethinking the Political Narrative of medieval Ireland  - The Hagiographer as Witness (1995), - like this:

"Indeed, the generic 'Ui Neill' which we have adopted as the basis for our narrative of the sixth, seventh, and eighth-centuries did not exist as we have come to envision them at that early stage in their development, no matter how clamorous the cry of the historical sources they have left for us, sources often as fabulous as the most far fetched miracle story to be found in the Hiberno-Latin hagiography of the same period."

You may have noticed that I have ignored the Cenel Eoghan in most of this debate; the reason being that they were not at all linked with Niall until they came to prominence in the second half of the eighth century having defeated the Cenel Conaill at which point they made Eoghan a son of Niall.

Were the Cenel Conaill Cruithne? That's a difficult one to answer. The Cruithne, according to Lacey had inhabited some areas of Donegal north of the river Finn in ancient times but the DNA and the evidence above suggests that the Cenel Conaill were an indigenous people. That's not to say that some mixing with the Cruithne populations did not eventually occur which would be normal in dynastic development.

More likely is that the Cenel Eoghan were of the Airthir of Ulster (or merged with them) who appear to have been descendents of Romano Britons from fourth century Wales. Their genealogies are very similar with a Muiredach, mac Eoghan, mac Niallain (mac Fiecc) being easily transposed to Niall by making Eoghan a son of Niall when the Southern Ui Neill merged with tribes of the north. Mac Erca then, the Irish Arthur of the early sixth century, may have been of the 'Airthir', a name conveniently rendered as 'Arthur' in Brythonic / Welsh. The Airthir were a tribe or sept of the Airghialla. David Dumville comes to a similar conclusion himself in Saint Patrick AD 493-1993 (p.151) stating :

" ..Before the end of the seventh century we can see one of them, the Airthir, explicitly associated with the Ui Neill*: Armagh and Navan lay in the territory of the Airthir, and it is significant that we can see the church of Armagh adjusting it's stance towards the Ui Neill kings of Ulster in the second half of seventh century"

* Dumville quotes Muirchu : " bellum...inter nepotes Neill et Orientales ex una parte " We can see here the Airthir are called 'Easterners'. Dumville suggests the Arghialla had always been Ulster tribes and the story of the Three Collas should be treated with great suspicion, but modern DNA finding may indicate that the Arghialla did indeed come from the east, namely Britain at some early stage, possibly fourth century and integrate northwards conquering Ulster. I think they may have been three columns of Christian (hence Colla Chri) Romano British soldiers from the Roman garrisons in Wales who fled the Christian persecutions of the early fourth century. Hiring themselves out to kings in Ireland. By the sixth century, Dumville would be correct, they would in effect be Ultonians after interbreeding with the local populations. The late post Ptolemy arrival of the Airghialla may also be indicated by the fact that their name is not of the old order as indicated by Eoin MacNiell who comments "The name seems to be of comparatively late formation, and cannot be classed with the old order of plural people-names..." The fourth century arrival of the Arghialla may also be supported by the fact that Latin loan words for the first time enter the Irish language as noted by E.A Thompson in Gildas and The History of Britain (1979): 

"A study of the Latin loan-words in Irish has suggested that they fall into two groups. The second of these groups began to be borrowed about the middle of the fifth century, so that the first group dates at latest from the middle of the fourth century.."

What about Niall himself, did he exist? Probably yes, but on  a much smaller scale than the later myth indicates. His nine hostages were probably those of the Airghialla as that was the exact number of hostages they were said to have to provide. This could mean that the 'Niallain' mentioned above could have represented Niall as the demander of the hostages. In effect this ancestor of the Airthir could have been Niall but not genetically or tribally linked in any way, just adopted!

The name Niall - Nelli, Neill.

What of his name? Meaning 'cloud' from Goidelic 'nel' or 'champion' from Goidelic 'nual' as usually said? Unlikely. It appears to be related to a more indo-European meaning which would be natural as the DNA indicates a degree of isolation so we should expect a degree of ancient indo-European to survive. In Sanskrit 'nili / nila' means 'dark blue' and is pronounced 'nella' much the same as the name of descendents of Niall were known (Nellan). In support of this is an inscription on a standing stone in county Wicklow reading 'Maqi Nili', translated loosely to "Of the son of Neill/Niall". He was the 'blue man'  - a warrior, decorated in blue woad, just like the ancient Britons and Picts. There may be some circumstantial evdience for this from the Lebhor Bretnach in a poem called Duan Eureannach regarding a mythical Nel:
"Nel was carried southwards to Egypt,
Hero of dark blue weapons,
The daughter of Forann was given
Unto him afterwards."
Niall was killed, according to tradition, on the shores of the English Channel in around 455 during the campaigns of the Roman general (and future emperor) Avitus to bring peace to the area.
Cenél Conaill and the Donegal Kingdoms, AD 500-800, Brian Lacey Four Courts Press 2006

Celtic Culture: An Historical Encyclopedia, John Koch, ABC-CLIO Ltd (15 Mar 2006)

, Francis John Byrne, Ériu, Vol. 22 (1971), pp. 128-166

, David O'Brien, Ériu, Vol. 11 (1932), pp. 182-183

, Eric P. Hamp, Proceedings of the Harvard Celtic Colloquium, Vol. 12 (1992), pp. 43-50
Celtic Ireland, R. A. S. Macaliste, The Irish Monthly, Vol. 47, No. 549 (Mar., 1919), pp. 134-141 

Early Irish History and Mythology, T. F. O'Rahilly, Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, 1946.
The Pretanic Background in Britain and Ireland, Eoin MacNeil, The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, Seventh Series, Vol. 3, No. 1 (Jun. 30, 1933), pp. 1-28 Published by: Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland.

,G. Eogan and F. J. Byrne, Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy. Section C: Archaeology, Celtic Studies, History, Linguistics, Literature, Vol. 66 (1967/1968), pp. 299-400.

 , Brian Lacey, The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, Vol. 134 (2004), pp. 169-172
, Philip Rance, Britannia, Vol. 32 (2001), pp. 243-270

, Melville Richards,The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, Vol. 90, No. 2 (1960), pp. 133-162

Ptolemy's Map of Ireland,  Goddard H., The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, Fifth Series, Vol. 4, No. 2(Jun., 1894), pp. 115-128, Published by: Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland.

Rethinking the Political Narrative of medieval Ireland  - The Hagiographer as Witness,  Laurence Maney,  Proceedings of the Harvard Celtic Colloquium, Vol. 15 (1995), pp. 89-105.

INTERPRETATION,  CATHERINE SWIFT,  Departments of Medieval and Early Irish History,
University College, Dublin 1992.

The Earliest Irish Annals: Their First Contemporary Entries, and the Earliest Centres of
, A. P. SmythSource: Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, Vol. 72 (1972), pp. 1-48.

 Temoria: Caput Scotorum?, Edel Bhreathnac, Ériu, Vol. 47, (1996), pp. 67-88
Published by: Royal Irish Academy.


  1. Dear Dane Pestano do you think that Vennicni are related with Muirchertach mac Erca?
    By the way of Fergus Cennfoda:
    Prince of Dal-nAraide
    Muircertach Mac Erca
    (sixth century)

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Difficult one to answer Piero. Mac Erca was known to Adamnan whose concerns were the northern Ulster and Donegal tribes, so Mac Erca was certainly of the north west. He doesn't appear to have been of the Cenel Conaill or they would have included him in their genealogies, instead he was claimed to be a descendent of Eoghan. These people claimed to be related to the Cenel Conaill. This is not out of the question of we consider inter dynastic marriages but the Cenel Eoghan may have been more Ulster tribally related, such as the Airthir. All the Ulster tribes seem to have been related to those of Northern Britain as well on a DNA level although the Airghiala may have originated amongst the Romano British garrisons of Wales. Hiring themselves out to a king of Ireland in the fourth Century when troubles and perhaps Christian persecution forced them to leave Wales. This King then sent them north into Ulster in which they carved out a territory of their own, pushing the Cruithne eastwards. Over a hundred years later, in the fifth century they came under the power of Niall and his sons from the midlands.This was until the reign of Mac Erca of course, traditionally dated to around 513 to 537.

  4. " This was at first thought to represent the O'Neills of Ireland and hence all the descendants of Niall of the Nine Hostages. However DNA testing has shown that although it is fairly common among those with some O'Neill surnames, such as O'Doherty, it is not common amongst most of the O'Neills themselves with only 20% of men in Donegal having this gene. It is in fact more prevalent in Ulster, Mayo, northern Britain and lowland Scotland (excluding Argyll). This suggests that these peoples had common ancestors thousands of years ago before Niall was even a twinkle in his mothers eye and that the O'Neills of the North were nothing of the sort! The O'Neill gene might be R1b-S668 but it's still too early to tell."

    1 The Ulster O'Neill surname of the Cenel Eoghain doesn't come from Niall of the Nine Hostages but from Niall Glundub a reputed descendant. It would be far simpler if you referred to NOTNH's descendants as UiNeill so as not to confuse it with the O'Neill surname.
    2. M222 is still very prominent among Ulster O'Neills but not the largest grouping.
    3. Donegal is in Ulster
    4. Argyll is not in the Scottish lowlands
    5. S668 Looks to be primarily the Cenel Conaill given the traditional names associated with them: O'Donnell, O'Gallagher, O'Doherty, McConnaughy, Duncan. Names with traditions linking to the Cenel Eoghain seem to pop up more under S588 (Donnelly, Gormley, Ewing, Lamont) so far.

    "Over time Haplogroup R1b was diluted by intermixing with other populations and is now found in relatively fewer people throughout Europe."
    Interestingly it hasn't shown up earlier than 4600YBP in ancient DNA while other haplogroups have, so it can be argued it is far more widespread in Europe now than in the past.

  5. Thanks for the comments and advice. Yes, I should use the correct terminology for the Ui'Neill rather than the O'Neill so have changed that and the other points raised.
    The Feni, Ulaid and the Laigin appear to be distinguished as the three peoples of Ireland and as I have equated the Feni with the Donegal population especially the Cenel Conaill I obviously see Donegal as being separate to Ulaid/Ulster.

  6. As a Project Administrator for the Y-DNA O'Dochartaigh Surname Project at Family Tree DNA I find this an interesting read. I don't hold a lot of stock in the Ui'Neill and his sons; however, as time progresses I am building some confidence in their being a somewhat strong Y-DNA showing and support (based on present day surnames and testers) for Cenél Conaill. Some days I wish I could simply Big Y test all the men in the world (well at least all those M269 or lower for now...).