Posted by Kristen Hyde on January 26, 2017 in AncestryDNA, Ireland, United Kingdom


Recently my friend Harry asked me if I could look at his AncestryDNA Ethnicity Estimate, as he was a little puzzled by the results. The puzzle for him was he had a fair amount of Irish in his estimate even though he wasn’t aware of any Irish ancestors. I asked him if he had any Scottish ancestry and it turns out his mother is from Edinburgh. In Harry’s case, my hypothesis was that his 37% Irish could be due in part to his Scottish ancestors.

I get asked questions like this quite a lot. Many people find that their estimate does not seem to reflect what they know of their paper ancestry. Specifically, people often ask how they might have Irish in their AncestryDNA Ethnicity Estimate if they have no known Irish ancestors in their tree. The answer to this is easier to see if you look at the area that the Irish region covers on the AncestryDNA map.


If you look at the map you will see that although the Irish estimate primarily represents ancestry from Ireland, it also covers many neighbouring parts of the world – Scotland, Wales, England and parts of North Western Europe. The reason for this is that individuals in this region of the world have moved around a great deal over the past several hundred years — and they’ve taken their DNA with them. This means that often times, even people with deep roots in a given area can still have a signature of Irish ancestry in their ethnicity estimate, particularly if that area is close to Ireland.

I have written previously about the averages of estimated Irish ancestry for individuals across the UK & Ireland. But I thought it might be useful to show some examples from friends of mine.


The chart above is the amount of Irish ancestry estimated for myself and a few friends with different backgrounds. Starting with my own result, I have an Irish Ethnicity Estimate of 93%, which is typical for a native Irish person.

If we look across the graph, beside my result are Sue, Dan and Harry who are British. Sue is English with an Irish mum and a Scottish dad. Her estimated Irish ethnicity is 61%. Dan is Welsh and his estimate is 50%. Harry is English with a Scottish mother and his estimate is 37%.

Moving further afield is Scott, who has an ancestry estimate of 28% Irish. Scott is American, but as you might guess from his name, he has Scottish ancestry. Finally, there is JP who is French and has an Irish ancestry estimate of 24%. When I saw JP’s ethnicity estimate, I asked him if he had any Northern French ancestry. And sure enough, he does.

As you can see, among my friends the Irish ethnicity estimate decreases as you move away from Ireland. The estimate is highest with me, then lower for my British friends, then lower again for my friends from further away.

Looking at the results for my friends and I, there are two interesting questions to consider.

• Why is the region called Ireland and not, for example, Celtic?
• If I do get an Irish estimate, does it reflect heritage from the island of Ireland or something wider?

Taking the first question, why is the region named Ireland? There are a couple of reasons for this. But the simplest explanation has to do with the reference panel that is used to determine your estimate. The AncestryDNA reference panel is the set of DNA samples, representing individuals from particular regions around the world, to which your DNA is compared to obtain your ethnicity estimate. The individuals in the reference panel used for Ireland have deep roots in Ireland going back several generations.

Understanding the reference panel is also important in answering the second question. What an AncestryDNA ethnicity estimate tells you is that you share a genetic ancestry with a given group of people who are intended to represent individuals from a specific place of the world. That shared genetic ancestry may be hundreds to thousands of years ago.

In the case of Ireland the ethnicity estimate tells you that you share genetic ancestry with modern people of Ireland who have deep roots in Ireland as documented by their pedigrees going back many generations. However, we also know that even despite these deep roots, the regions neighbouring Ireland have strong historical, and therefore genetic, connections to Ireland too. So, it is natural that these connections would be reflected in the DNA of people from those regions, and therefore in their ethnicity estimates.

How, then, should you interpret your Irish estimate? The answer to this is to approach it like any family history question and look for supporting evidence. Do you have documentary evidence indicating Irish or perhaps Scottish ancestry? If so, then the ethnicity estimate is likely corroborating the documentation. Or perhaps your surname is Fraser or Jones, typically Scottish or Welsh surnames. Again, this may be an indicator of a Scottish or Welsh source for your Irish estimate. What you are looking for is multiple sources of evidence telling the same story.

If you don’t have any supporting evidence there could be several explanations for your Irish estimate. It is very possible that your Irish ancestry is beyond the reach of your paper trail. However it may also be that your Irish ethnicity estimate may represent ancestry from Scotland or Wales, elsewhere in the UK, or even a bit further afield. But to me, that is one of the exciting things about AncestryDNA. It is not just an answer to a question but the beginning of a deeper exploration and understanding of the story of you.

This post was written by Mike Mulligan, principle product manager at Ancestry. 


  1. Siusaidh Chaimbeul

    Thanks for this explanation. With one Irish grandparent, I was (pleasantly) surprised to be found 54% ‘Irish’. As the other side of the family is very much Scottish diaspora, perhaps should be closer to 75%! The DNA cards we happen to receive are truly wondrous.

  2. Terry Wilson

    The ‘explanation’ fails to explain why Ancestry USA has to call it ‘ the Irish Connection’. St Patrick is big in the States , but St David rules in Wales[ that’s a proud little country tagged on to England] and St Andrew vies with Rabbie Burns as the patron saint of Scotland. It would be much more pleasing and probably more accurate to be categorized as Celtic

    • garethmorgan47

      An Irish President of Prime Minister claimed that St Patrick was Welsh. Some even go further, Patrick, or Padrig in Welsh, was born around 387 AD and was known as Maewyn (Welsh for devoted friend) Succat (a Pagan term for warlike).

      He is believed to have come from Bannavem Taburniae, which could be Banwen in Neath Port Talbot, where every year a service is held in his honour.

  3. Caroline Griffiths

    I have 56% Irish DNA. My paternal grandmother was 100% Scottish and my maternal grandmother was half Welsh. Everyone else was English so I was surprised by such a high percentage.

  4. Dawn King

    Thank you for explaining that. I have been wondering since getting my results back as 30% Irish. I have found an Irish link but know of Scottish as well. I think with both parents families found living in London, going back to the late 1700’s, I have to accept I am a Heinz 57 variety descended from immigrants from various countries.

  5. Ruth Russell-Jones

    My Dad was Welsh, his father was Welsh, his father was Welsh, his father was Welsh, his father was Welsh (only the lack of church records prevent me going further back than the late 1700s). Why do you think my ancestry was Irish? It just isn’t. Why prioritise Irishness? This might be acceptable in the US but not here in the UK.

  6. Chris Kirk

    I have traced two lines of my gr, gr grandparents to Ireland but have so far not bee able to locate where exactly they came from. I thought that perhaps as more Irish took DNA tests that it might throw up some clues to linking existing family ties. Irish genealogy and records are so unreliable that I am beginning to give up all hope of tracing anyone remotely linked to my family.

  7. This makes sense. I have documented a huge amount of my history, and had no Irish ancestors at all. I did, however, have a significant Scottish heritage starting with a great grandmother. This now fits well with the percentage estimate of “Irish” in my DNA ethnicity estimate.

  8. Kristina

    Thank you for this very useful piece. We were wondering where the Irish connection fitted in on our tree. I have traced Scottish ancestors on both my husbands and my own family tree. On my tree it is much further back than on my husbands. This is reflected in the percentages in the analysis. Very neat.

  9. Alice SEIDELMAN

    I have photos from a deceased relative of a church alter in Ireland probably Wexford at

    I have photos of a church añd building taken by a deceased relative possibly from county Wexford. Relatives are buried there. Where can I send copies to identify them? Any suggestions?

  10. Victor Evans

    Excellent but I think there is a lot more to it than you explain. My test came back almost exactly what I expected but I thought I am a history buff who believed I was Welsh, English, Irish, Scotch, French and Dutch. Any fan of the the old UK Archeology TV program would have no surprise if they were actually British. Test: GB: 59%, IR: 26%, Scandinavian: 6%, Western Europe: 5% and a small amount of Italian. Anyone who is English/Scottish and is surprised when they find Irish likely get this DNA from the fierce Scottish mercenaries who long before the Irish Problem spent long times in Ireland controling the troublesome Irish. Some brought back Irish wives, others may have imprgnated Irish girls and left and still others like my Irish Hamiltons became what is now the Irish Hamitons and became farmers. I doubt they started out Irish. The Scandinavia can easily be explained by the Viking invaders who established some of the first major towns in Britain, took wives and stayed. The Western Euopean can be explained from two sources the Norman Invasion and also the Roman Invasion who also used to form their Legions from their previously counqured territories so it is quite likely that my trace Italian and Western European DNA could have partially come to Britain that way.

  11. Yvonne Hardwick

    My DNA results show 38% Irish and this backs up my paper trail as I have discovered that some of my ‘Scottish’ Ancestors were Irish immigrants before the Famine. The annoying thing is that some have only stated ‘Ireland’ on the following Censuses so I struggle to find which parts of Ireland they are from, compounded by the fact that there are about 26 different interpretations of one of the surnames! I look forward the new Ancestry development of Genetic Communities!

  12. Charlotte

    My results show 28% Irish and 3% Great Britain- how can this be so? I know that I have Scottish, Welsh & English ancestry, so surely the Great Britain percentage should be similar to the Irish percentage?

  13. Craig

    I’ve just recieved my results which show that I’m 44% ‘Irish’ 32% Scandinavian and 4% Great British despite not having any known Irish ancestors and tracing back many relatives from England. Looking at the ‘Irish’ map, I’m disappointed to see that it also covers Scotland, Wales, and a large chunk of Northern England & the Midlands. The term ‘Irish’ is misleading and I feel panders to the Americans. It should be called Northern & Western British Isles to be more accurate.

  14. David McDowell

    Thanks very much for this interesting piece. I took the Ancestry DNA test and was not totally surprised to see that it was 34% Irish, 51% British and assorted Western European. My family tree, which I’m also building up with Ancestry, is entirely in the eastern part of what is now Northern Ireland, going back a couple of hundred years, and all the names are ‘Protestant’ – i.e. English and Scottish, as we were all planters. The sectarian nature of society would have meant comparatively little intermarriage with the ‘native’ Irish population; or perhaps they just didn’t fancy us much. I was struck by how high the percentage of Irish DNA the author of the article has and his point that this is pretty normal in, I assume, the Republic, as it’s obviously a lot less in NI.

    • Andrew


      My ancestors are McDowell who came to America when it was still a colony. They originated from Scotland then to Northern Ireland. Wondering if this could be the same line as yours.

  15. Bendigeidfran Jones

    A much as I appreciate my Irish brothers, I’m in total agreement with many others here, that the marker should be renamed Celtic, or perhaps more accurately Irish & Brittonic. The Americans gorge themselves on a shammy Irish obsession, but it’s simply not the case elsewhere in the English speaking world.

  16. pat cooper

    My Ancestry DNA is 61% Western Europe. 16%Irish. 14%Great Britain. 4%Scandinavian3%Iberian1%Jewish.A proper mixed up person.The end result of Conquest, Intermarriage,Trade, and settlement no doubt. I am interested in my Birth surname of Terry. This where the Irish bit may be coming from as there was a large area in Cork where Terry’s were living.But, migration from Europe has played a large part in my DNA I guess.

  17. Mike

    There is confusion here. Now in reality there is no such thing as Irish dna per se, results across UK found Irish cluster close to regional groups, northern Irish and Scotch were similar as they shared culture and eastern Ireland was more similar to UK then west ireland, the Irish should be renamed Celtic maybe to clarify as it gives false impressions. They found irish people are mixed between farmers and steppe people but then again so must most of UK too, except the UK has more northern european dna while parts of ireland have preserved dna more similar to north west france. But again Irish people tend to be dark haired and red haired and even some blond mix, so the further towards west ireland you go less imput from north europe maybe although there has been some. For example I read eastern irish were more ruddy and stockier than western irish. In UK they found wales ireland and scotland preserved more north west french type dna but also west german type dna, while England was more north france and west/north german type dna and slightly more Scandinavian although Doggerland connected all these areas. Although Scottish people were more simialr to English people so geography has something to do with it but all people shared belgian type type, the scandinavian element was even found in areas no where near the vikings so maybe from earlier groups, its hard to say how the lands were repopulated but certainly due to linguistic and cultural connections this isolated groups to develop unique signatures so modern terms are never useful as ancient groups never used them.

  18. Bill Martin

    My ethenicity begins with three countries, having 57%. England,Scotland, and Wales ?
    All together at 57% ???? Bill

  19. Eugene Ginty

    My results show that I am 100% Irish. Is this very unusual? Not only that but my heritage was pinpointed to 2 quite specific regions in Northwest Mayo and Southern Sligo. I guess they didn’t move around very much, and the regions specified wouldn’t really have been attractive to settlers. Poor land and an extremely wet climate. Any thoughts?

  20. Roland23

    Lately my friend Harry asked me that can I could look at his AncestryDNA Ethnicity Estimate, as he was a little mystified by the fallouts. Tell them about The enigma for him was he had a fair quantity of Irish in his estimation even though he wasn’t conscious of any Irish families. I asked him if he had any Scottish origin and it turns out his mom is from Edinburgh.

  21. Lettie Fortune

    My ethnicity estimate came back as 100% Irish and Scottish. I am British born, but my parents originated from the Republic of Ireland and I was not aware of any Scottish ancestry in the family. I did find out recently that my maternal grandmother’s family originated from Co Down in what is now Northern Ireland. I have heard that many Northern Ireland people have Scottish ancestry so this is probably why Scottish ancestry showed up in my DNA test.

  22. Single man

    We don’t realize how much we hold ourselves back because of fear. We’re scared of what others may think or say about us or we’re scared of the effects our actions and behaviors will have on Irish man; either way, external – and sometimes internal – factors are fighting against us every day.

  23. non davies

    I am absolutely gobsmacked (good Welsh terminology) – how can an organisation which claims to be accurate subsume such a strong identity and heritage into Great Britain, I don’t mind being subsumed into Irish but this needs to be acknowledged and recognised as Celtic surely?

  24. Julie Clayton

    I have done considerable research into my family tree, and there is no Irish or Scottish connection. There is however a strong Welsh connection. I am incredibly confused by this.

  25. Eileen Mahoney

    Both my mother and I recently had a DNA test and the results shows we are both 100% Irish. Both my parents were born in Ireland and I was born in the UK and as far as I know, all our ancestors were Irish. I am very eager to know if it is possible to find out how far back in history our ancestors would have settled in Ireland?

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