How Closely Related are the English and the Irish?

Edited from
Larry Pearce

Dr. Stephen Oppenheimer
(b. 1947)

Dr. Stephen Oppenheimer, a medical geneticist at the University of Oxford, says in a new book, The Origins of the British: A Genetic Detective Story (Carroll & Graf, 2006),  “Although historians teach that the English and the Irish are mostly descended from different peoples, the Irish from the Celts and the English from the Anglo-Saxons who invaded from northern Europe and drove the Celts to the country’s western and northern fringes, the historians’ account is wrong in almost every detail. Geneticists who have tested DNA throughout the British Isles are also edging toward a different conclusion.” Many are struck by the overall genetic similarities, leading some to claim that both Britain and Ireland have been inhabited for thousands of years by a single people that have remained in the majority, with only minor additions from later invaders like Celts, Romans, Angles, Saxons, Vikings and Normans.

In Dr. Oppenheimer’s reconstruction of events, the principal ancestors of today’s British and Irish populations arrived from Spain about 16,000 years ago, speaking a language related to Basque. The British Isles were unpopulated then, wiped clean of people by glaciers that had smothered northern Europe for about 4,000 years and forced the former inhabitants into southern refuges in Spain and Italy. When the climate warmed and the glaciers retreated, people moved back north. In all, about three-quarters of the ancestors of today’s British and Irish populations arrived between 15,000 and 7,500 years ago, when rising sea levels finally divided Britain and Ireland from the Continent and from one another.

Last revised 2/21/21

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