By Alan Milliken


David Wilson went on to found the R1b1c7 Project renamed the M222 Haplogroup Project and joined by the late John D. McLaughlin, who also was administrator of the Clann McLaughlin website.

The M222 SNP is now classified on the ISOGG Y-DNA SNP tree as R1b1a2a1a2c1a1a1 and FTDNA SNP as R1b1a2a1a1b4b (previously R1b1b2a1b5b).


The IMH 17 marker haplotype contained the following genetic markers (see here for data), sequenced using the FTDNA format and at DYS 389/2 and 461, respectively, adjusted upwards by 13 and 2 alleles.

DYS 393=13: 390=25: 394=14: 391=11: 388=12: 439=12: 389/1=13: 392=14: 389/2=29: 437=15: 460=11: 438=12: 436=12: 462=11: 434=9: 461=11: 435=11:

In TCD study, the occurrence of the IMH was explored further in a sample of 59 men possessing surnames with a purported common origin within the Ui Neill genealogies in Ireland. The sample included known family surnames from NW Ireland, e.g. Bradley, O’Gallagher, O’Docharty, O’Donnell and McLaughlin, and included two outlining non-R1b1b2 chromosomes. However, none of the DNA tests sampled in the study were matched to a surname, which limited the scope of the study for further analysis.  

In the Irish genealogies some of these surnames are associated with major lineages within the Uí Néill dynasty, which from the seventh to the eleventh century held the high-kingship of Ireland. This powerful dynasty, like others in Ireland, preserved genealogies that linked them to royal lineages and most importantly to the ancestral figure, its eponymous and possibly mythological ancestor, Niall of the Nine Hostages, who lived in the fifth century. The study however stopped short of claiming that this newly identified cluster directly represented Niall’s DNA haplotype, which is impossible to prove, but claimed the association between the genealogies attached to certain surnames and the pattern of variation in the IMH suggested a strong social selection associated with the hegemony of the Uí Néill dynasty.  The effect of this claim were sensational at the time and welcomed by both professional and amateurs alike within the DNA community and other fields of science.

Since the publication of the study, increasingly its scope is being questioned particularly after the identification of other SNPs upstream and downstream of M222, which define the IMH clustered more accurately within the Male Y-DNA Haplogroup Tree.  The point is best illustrated by re-examining one sub-set of markers defined by 24 at DYS 390 and 13 at DYS 392 within the 59 haplotypes used in the original study; there are 19 DNA tests in this sub-set. It can be shown that these haplotypes belong to other haplogroups (non-M222+) by applying a simple test using Ysearch. Under the tab ‘search by genetic matches’, and using the second option on this page, ‘click here to enter any sequence and search by Haplotype’, this facility will enable further analysis of the IMH 17 marker haplotype.  

DYS 393=13: 390=24: 394=14: 391=11: 388=12: 439=12: 389/1=13: 392=13:  389/2=29: 437=15: 460=11: 438=12: 436=12: 462=11: 434=9: 461=11: 435=11:

Step I - Input the above 17 loci into the comparison tool at each respective genetic marker and ensure the allele values at DYS 390 and DYS 392 are adjusted  to 24 and 13 respectively.

Step 2 - At ‘Show users that tested at least,’ in the drop down, adjust the number to 17.

Step 3 - Under ‘Allow’ in the first drop down, allow 1 genetic distance for comparison.

This search should produce a range of SNPs, including those listed below:

R1b1a2a1a1a (tested)

R1b1a2a1a1a8 (tested)

R1b1a2a1a1b3 (tested)

R1b1a2a1a1b4f (tested)

R1b1a2a1a1b4g (tested)

R1b1a2a1a1b4h (tested)

R1b1a2a1a1b5a (tested)

This simple test clearly demonstrates that even with a one-mutational step of modal, a significant proportion of the testees used in the study are not M222+.  However, if the same exercise is applied again using the modal values of 25 at DYS 390 and 14 at DYS 392, the results produce a set of SNPs, including the usual “unknowns”  that reflect a set of STRs closely  matching M222+.

This simple test clearly demonstrates a significant proportion of the males in the study ‘possessing surnames with a purported origin within the Uí Néill genealogies’ are not M222+.  If the same exercise is applied again using the modal values of 25 at DYS 390 and 14 at DYS 392, the results produce a set of STRs closely matching the M222 haplogroup. In the study, this represents about 35 of the 59 or about 60% of the sampled males who carried that distinctive set of STRs that count towards a comparable M222+ match (see the attached excel spreadsheet), which suggests 24 or 40% of the males with a surname said to originate within the Uí Néill genealogies are not representative of the M222 haplogroup.  This raises the question, to what extent is the M222 Haplogroup representative of the Uí Néill and its semi-historical and putative founder, Nial of the Nine Hostages?   

This dilemma is nowhere more apparent than within the O’Neill DNA Project a problem highlighted in a separate paper by Edwin B. O’Neill and late John D McLaughlin entitled “Insights Into the O’Neills of Ireland from DNA testing” in 2006.  This study identified two major branches within the O’Neill kindred, the historic heirs and successors of the Cénel Eogan branch of the Uí Néill, one based on the IMH modal and the other a non-M222+ cluster, called the O’Neill Modal Haplotype (ONMH).   The article itself proposed two explanations for this discrepancy and the most significant one suggested the royal line of O’Neill in County Tyrone at some point within a timeframe of 900s to 1500s, was interrupted by a Non-Paternal Event (NPE).  It was reasoned that although, the M222+ group of O’Neills was smaller than the ONMH group, the presence of a high number of M222+ tests in the McLaughlins and O’Cathains, who also have genealogies purporting to share a common ancestor with the Tyrone O’Neills, suggested the IMH O’Neill group represented the O’Neill patrilineal descended from the royal line of the Ui Neill. This solution assumes the Cénel Eogan’s royal line is M222+ and the direct descendants of Nial of the Nine Hostages.

The same problem also faces the Bradleys a surname derived from the Gaelic name O’Brolacháin, a Sept originating from the border counties of Tyrone and Derry. The O’Brolacháins were a prolific and adventurous people and a branch of the family, the O’Brologhans, was early established in the Western Highlands of Scotland via their connections with the monastery of Iona, where Domhnall Ua Brolcháin, prior of Derry, was abbot in the twelfth century.  The Bradley DNA Project has a cluster of tests that appear to be M222+, but the project has no overall dominant group. Bradley was one of 43 surnames sampled in another study by the TCD team.  In a Y-chromosomes and the extent of the patrilineal ancestry in Irish surnames, the team sampled 30 Bradleys over which half came from Ulster, where the name is dominant in Counties Tyrone, Derry and Donegal.  Applying the same method used to distinguish the two sub-groups within the TCD Ui Neill study, it becomes apparent the picture is much the same with neither cluster holding an overall majority between them with 12 of the 30 Bradley samples matching the M222+ haplogroup at DYS 390=25 and DYS 392=14. The same study also sampled 80 O’Neill males (see Bradley-O’Neill data on this spreadsheet) and of these, about 14 of the 80 male sampled matched the M222+ haplogroup at DYS 390=25 and DYS 392=14. Taken together, respectively, the Bradley and O’Neill Non-M222+ samples strongly indicate that more than one DNA haplogroup once existed within the royal Ui Neill dynasty and perhaps, future research may uncover a second dominant cluster in the Ui Neill.


The TCD study also attempted to estimate the TMRCA of the Ui Neill and calculated it to about 1,730 (with a standard Deviation [SD] of 670) years ago to around AD 276. It also estimated a TMRCA for the IMH in north-western (NW) Ireland, where IMH ratio of was higher, to about 1,010 (SD 390) years ago or around AD 996.

In February 2012, Sandy Paterson reported some interesting observations in the R-M222 Forum that highlight particular inconsistencies in the original report produced by the TCD team. He draws on revised estimations (albeit to quote ‘crude’ estimates), that strongly indicate error margins in the original calculations reckoned by the research team, which were calculated prior to the validation of the M222 SNP in March 2007, and included testees from other Haplogroups. Taking this into account, a revised calculation using a sample of 537 M222 marker tests (with some predicted M222 testees), re-calibrated the TMRCA of the Ui Neill IMH from 1,730 to 1,407 years ago [or around AD 599]. This estimate, however, is qualified with a cautionary note that the uncertainty of mutation rates, as used by the TCD team, robs the answer to this problem of any credibility.

Dr. Anatole Klyosov of the Russian Academy of DNA Genealogy posted a messages on the R-M222 Forum giving an estimate to the average age of the M222 for current living descendants, to 1450 years ago with an SD +/- 160 years. This computes into 58 conditional generations of 25 years with an SD of 6 conditional generations. In his Proceedings of the Russian Academy of DNA Genealogy, Vol. 5, No. 3, 2012 (Discussions, no. 1, page 292), he explains in more detail that this estimate is based on a data set (intraclade calculations) from people living today who practically all coalesce to a common ancestor likely to have survived a population before the bottleneck(s). However, he notes several small lineages or branches on the M222 haplotype tree that are quite distant from the “mainstream” haplotype, and therefore, could not possibly descend from the common ancestor dated to around AD 562.


These small lineages, although distant and fragmented, are said to descend from one common ancestor who lived almost 2000 years before present (ybp) or to around the beginning of the first Millennia AD. This common ancestor is placed before the bottleneck(s) and described as the lineage ancestor of all the “mainstream” and minor lineages.  Unlike the average age to 1450 ybp, the estimate to around 2000 ybp has been reconstructed from a series of DNA-lineages (interclade calculations) in the Rb1 population. Of these smaller lineages or branches, it would be interesting to learn more about their makeup and where they are primarily located.   


In their study ‘A Dated Plylogenetic Tree of M222 SNP haplotypes’ (August 16, 2011), the late Bill Howard and John McLaughlin studied sixteen surname clusters known to be M222, and included a number from Scotland.  In their study, they identified a major proliferation of the M222 in Ireland around AD 850, which appears consistent with the TCD study; it suggested the rise in frequency did not begin with the TMRCA but was rather associated with a group of descendants sometime later. Dr. Klyosov has pointed out there might be in the M222 Haplogroup, a higher proportion of younger and more populous lineages, which could account for the higher concentration of M222 in NW Ireland, where specific surnames can be linked to genealogies and the Irish Annals.


Scotland has nowhere near the kind of genealogies found in Ireland, which makes the task of isolating creditable hard data for comparison more difficult. All this has implications for the study of both the Irish and Scottish M222, as all the dates for the current age of the M222 Haplogroup have been calculated using variable mutations rates for genetic markers, extrapolated from testees currently living in this era with few discernible patterns in Scotland.

As Bill Howard and John McLaughlin highlight in their article, future work is needed to achieve a deeper understanding of the place or origin of the M222 SNP, as the location of the progenitor of the M222 mutation is an unsolved problem. The current age of the M222 SNP certainly presents its own set of problems and in the absence of any significant break-through in terms of another SNP being identified downstream from M222, research to find and estimate a time-frame that includes a consistent spread of M222 testees in Scotland is much needed. It would seem at least, for the time being, the two separate estimates calibrated by Dr. Klyosov and Sandy Paterson for the current age of the M222 Haplogroup, may provide a workable time-frame from about AD 500 onwards for SW Scotland.


In 2011, I decided to search for a surname in Co. Donegal known to be primarily M222+ with a reasonable number of DNA results that could be compared with a number of Milligan/Milliken results known to originate in Dumfriesshire and Galloway.  My history in Scotland stems from the lineage-name Amuligane in Nithsdale, Dumfriesshire, and in the Millilgan/Milliken DNA Project, we have two testess with a proven genealogy back to c.1530. The earliest record to the eponymous ancestor is traced to c.1210, when Molegan witnessed a charter of Edgar son of Dovenald, lord of Nithsdale, which suggests it is very unlikely, Molegan settled in the area after this date.  The surname in Co. Donegal also had to have at least one DNA testee with a proven genealogy dating back to at least 1530 and as far as possible, a history attached geographically to a known location or place of origin. The O’Docherty Clan fitted the description and on paper, seemed very unlikely to ever have shared a TMRCA with the Amuligane family in Nithsdale prior to 1100.  One other feature stood out, a significant number of O’Docharty DNA results carried the distinctive allele value of 22 at YCAIIb, which is not found the Milliken/Milligan haplotypes in SW Scotland.

The earliest reliable reference to the O’Docharty surname is found in the Annuals of Ulster, which notes the obit of Aindiles Ua Dochartaigh who died in Derry of St. Columcille in 1180. It also had one DNA test attached to the chief line of O’Docharty, whose ancestral territory is known to have been located in the Finn Valley at Ardmiran near Stranorlar. The genealogy of the O’Docherty chiefs of ‘Ard Miodhair’ have been re-produced from the O’Clery Book of Genealogies by John McLaughlin and can be viewed on his website - McLaughlin Dun na nGall.

On January 8, 2012, 38 DNA results, 19 from each DNA Project, were sent to Dr. Klyosov to calibrate using his method of analysis, as defined in his paper ‘DNA Genealogy, Mutations Rates, and Some Historical Evidence Written in the Y-Chromosome’. His response, sent on January 9, 2012, has been posted on his Website and can be viewed in the Proceedings of the Russian Academy of DNA Genealogy, Vol. 5, No. 1, 2012 (Letters, no. 119, page 2482).

In relation to the O’Docharty haplotypes, Dr. Klyosov observed two early branches in the O’Docharty lineage with their current descendants having their common ancestor to around 800 and 825 ybp, respectively, to around 1212 and 1187 (with +/- SD of 180). This suggests the distinctive allele value of 22 at YCAIIb mutated sometime prior to this period, as this value is shared by both branches, including two outliers nos 18 & 19. He also suggested a split occurred around AD 602 from the overall common lineage. The earliest traceable genealogical split that would give rises to many O’Docharty sub-branches goes back to Aindiles Ua Dochartaigh, chief of Ardmiran, who died in 1288 (AU).  He was the father of Domnall, who died in 1339 (AU), and Tominlin. The chief line of O’Docharty is traced from Domnall, and in the 37 marker tree his descendant is no. 1 in the right sub-branch. Domnall is descended from another Domnall, probably a brother of Echmarcach Ua Dochartaigh, who first succeeded as over-king of the Cenel Conall in 1197. Whilst Dr. Klyosov’s time-spans are only estimates, they may well point to many O’Dochartys today, descending from a man who lived only a few generations after Dochartaigh son of Meanguile, progenitor of the Ua Dochartiagh. In the genealogies, Dochartaigh is delineated as a descendant of Niall of the Nine Hostages.

In the Milligan/Milliken lineage, Dr. Klyosov observed two main branches, each with their own sub-branches. In the 37 and 67 marker tree, no. 20 has the earliest genealogy and appears to be the nearest living descendant to the chief line of Amuligane traced through McRath Amuligane (1296).  Haplotypes 20 to 27 are all clustered round a modal haplotype with two sub-branches, estimated to share a common ancestor to around 740 SD +/- 200 ybp.  Haplotypes 28 to 38 reflect a more varied set with the whole branch sharing an average estimate to a common ancestor of only 1025 ybp in the 67 marker series, which is very close to the estimate of 1050 ybp calculated in the 37 marker series. The common ancestor of the cluster probably lived around AD 980.  The two main Milligan/Milliken branches are estimated to share a common ancestor to the beginning of AD with error margins between 1925 and 2020 ybp.

In a separate study by Sandy Paterson, four Milligan/Milliken haplotypes, one drawn from the first branch, no. 21 kit 23702 (haplotypes 20 to 27) and three from the other branch, nos 30, 31 & 33 (haplotypes 28 to 38), where all compared and in summary, the TMRCA calculated per generation was estimated as follows:

No. 21 and No. 30 (kit 135550) to 39.21 generations with a 95% frequency interval 25.5 to 48.3 generations.

No. 21 and No. 31 (kit 191000) to 41.52 generations with a 95% frequency interval 32.7 to 47.9 generations.

No. 21 and No. 33 (kit 12068) to 36.59 generations with a 95% frequency interval 29.0 to 47.3 generations.

With the highest probable frequency of 48.3 generations, this study suggests the TMRCA is unlikely to be any earlier than 48.3 x 30 = 1449 ybp or to around AD 563. It is more likely, however, the average is about 39 generations ago or to around AD 842. In a similar comparison between the chief line of Amuligane, no. 20 (kit. 11045), and that of O’Docharty, no. 1 (kit 38173), Sandy estimated 35.8 generations with a 95% frequency interval of 25.8 to 47.1 generations. This suggests an average age to 1078 ybp or to around AD 937 is interesting, as Dr. Klyosov estimated the O’Dochartys split from the overall common lineage around AD 602. Since both lineages share the M222 SNP, we can speculate both shared a common ancestor downstream from the first man to mutate at M222, and he might well have lived sometime after the ‘origin’ perhaps in the mid first Millennia.

In his conclusion, Dr. Klyosov estimated the TMRCA of both the O’Docharty and Amuligane families lived at the beginning of first millennia AD, and that he gave rise to both lineages. This assumes bottlenecks with both surnames sharing one or two haplotypes more distance from the main branches, which has the effect of eschewing the average estimate to the TMRCA. In the case of O’Docherty no. 18 & 19, seem to extend the age, yet both also share the distinctive allele value of 22 at YCAIIb, which to me, argues against an earlier period. I rather think, YCAIIb=22 acts as a check to all the estimates so far mentioned in the O’Docharty lineage. For us, it is relevant to note that in SW Scotland it is extremely unlike the Amuligane lineage ever shared a common ancestor with the O’Dochartys after AD 1000. So what happened in the centuries prior to this date?

Much of what has been said about the M222 Haplogroup relies heavily on predicated rates of mutation, at each genetic marker, in a given DNA sequence.  The statistical analysis used to calculate estimates and/or genetic distance to a TMCRA, also relies on extensive theories and methods to minimize the random effects of mutations over time that include for example, slow to fast mutation rates, and multiple, pair wise and back step mutations. This is still an evolving field of science and estimates are only averages, and in some cases, predictions are made without any independent verification.  If we are to believe the claim that many of the Scottish M222s are direct descendants of Niall, High King of the Irish, then arguably, the Ua Dochartaigh might provide an interesting timeline back to Niall, their legendry ancestor. His floruit can be dated within a reasonable span by the dates when Irish Historian’s credit Niall with a reign as high king in medieval Ireland. Traditional dating, which relies mainly on annalistic material, has shown to be unreliable with most modern historians, usually placing Niall’s reign to the middle of the fifth century or towards the end of the century.

Traditional accounts name Conall Gulban, Eogain, Enda, Coripre, Loeguire, Maine, Conall Cremthainne and Fiachu sons of Niall and in the genealogies, the Ua Dochartaigh lineage is traced back through the Cenel Lugdach to Conall Gulban, founder of Cenel Conaill. By the time the Ua Dochartaigh appear in the Irish annals, some 700 years after Niall’s floruit, they emerge as lords of the Cenel Enda or Enna, traditionally ascribed a lineage descended from Enna son of Niall and brother of Conall Gulban. The Cenel Enna is first mentioned in 1011, when the Annals of Ulster note the death of ‘Aengus ua Lapain’, king of Cenel Énda, who was slain by the Cenél Eógain of Inis [Eogain]. Ua Lapain is said to be one of the oldest hereditary surnames in Ireland and some of the family where erenaghs of Daire Colum Cille. The name is first recorded in the Annals of the Four Masters, which gives the obit of Aengus ua Lapáin, bishop of Rath-both, modern Raphoe, AD. 957. ‘Uisine ua Lapain’, arch-eranagh or superior of Daire Colum Cille died 983/4. The name Lapain is found in the genealogy of the Ua Dochartaigh, in the name of ‘Lapain son of Domnall’ son of Aindiles Ua Dochartaigh, chief of Ardmiran, who died in 1288. The genealogy of the Ua Lapain does not appear to have survived, making any attempt to establish their lineage within the Cenel Enna almost impossible.

The O’Docharty family only begins to emerge into history after the defeat of the Cenel Enna by Echmarcach Ua Cathain and Niall Ua Gairmledhaigh (O’Gormley) in 1177.  In the same year, Niall Ua Gairmledhaigh, called king of the men of Magh-Itha and of ‘Cenel-Enda’, was killed by Donnchadh Ua Cairellain and by the Clan-Diarmata, in the centre of Daire Colum Cille. The defeat of the Cenel Enna is described as a slaughter, but evidently, it survived in some form under the O’Docharty chief of Ardmiran, probably Aindiles Ua Dochartaigh, and consolidated further by Echmarcach Ua Dochartaigh, who was able to take the kingship of the Cenel Conaill in 1197.  Echmarcach held it for only a fortnight before he and many others from the Cenel Conaill were killed by John de Courcy. There is no evidence to suggest the O’Dochartys ever held the kingship of Cenel Conaill before 1197;  by all accounts, only after this date would they go on to become one of the most powerful clans in Co. Donegal.   

According to the O’Clery Book of Genealogies, the O’Dochartys are traced from Fiamhain said to be one of the sons of Cenn Faelad (pronounced Cenn Falla) and brother of Mael Duin, ancestor of the Ui Domnaill (O’Donnells).  In the O’Docharty genealogy, three lineage ancestors bore the name Maenghuile, Moenghuile or Maonghail in the ninth and tenth centuries, which in the genealogies of Cenel Lugdach is only found in the lineage of Fiamhain.  I wonder if there is a possibility Fiamhain might not have been a son of Cenn Faelad, but was only made a son after the Ua Dochartaigh chiefs asserted their claim to the kingship of the Cenel Conaill in 1197. Traditionally, the Gaelic poets refer to the O’Dochartys as the ‘Clann Fiamhain’ or ‘Fiamhain’s seed’, suggesting this clan already existed prior to 1100. In the townland of Ardmiran, there is a raised ring fort at Dunwiley, which is thought to preserve the name of Fiamhain’s son Maonghuile. The first element in Maenghuile, Gaelic maoin, means wealth or treasure.  In the second element, ‘ghuile’, “gh” can be “dh” pronounced like ‘y’ or if it is located in the middle or end of a name, it is usually silent.  ‘Ghuile’ is thought to equate to ‘wiley’ in ‘Dunwiley, rendered as Dun Mhaonghuile’ or fort of Maonghaile and if the case, it would seem the history of the O’Dochartys can be tentatively traced to the ninth century.

Updated 21st May, 2017


In February 2006, a team of researchers from Trinity College in Dublin (TCD) published a report on ‘A Y-Chromosome Signature of Hegemony in Gaelic Ireland’, that identified within the haplogroup R1b3 now known as R1b1b2, a unique and distinctive cluster called the Irish modal haplotype (IMH) in the northwest part of Ireland.  It was defined by a sequence of 17 STR marker haplotype that allowed for a one-mutational step, a pattern previously observed by David Wilson, founder of the R-M222 Haplogroup Project.  In December 2004, drawing on the Capelli Study and the data obtained from YHRD and Ysearch (public DNA databases), he observed a cluster of modal values in Ireland and Scotland, which in his paper published on December 28, 2004, he first referred to as the ‘25/11/14 R1b variety’, afterwards the North West Irish Variety.  This cluster was characterised by a set of allele values; 25 at DYS 390, 11 at DYS 391 and 14 at DYS 392 found in the following string of STRs: DYS 393=13, 390=25, 394=14, 391=11, 388=12, 392=14.  This was confirmed by Trinity College in Dublin, who also reported the presence of this distinctive cluster with values at DYS 390=25, 391=11 and 392=14 in Ireland. In March 2007, further confirmation came when EthnoAncestry reported that this haplotype was defined by a single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) called M222.