Sunday, 8 June 2014

Isha, a Clan Mother

Feeling disillusioned with our DNA testing endeavor, my uncle recently complained ‘So far, for 600 quid, I'm told that Aileen is my daughter and Treasa is my sister!! Surprise, Surprise!!’ I felt the same as it became clear that our genealogical brick-walls were unlikely to come tumbling down any time soon. But, there is something that my uncle didn't know before he forked out his 600 quid. It wont change his life, but he may find it interesting, nonetheless.

We are directly descended from a woman known as Isha, Iris to some. The ‘we’ in this sentence means my uncle, his sisters and all their children. It means anyone who descends from Granny Annie or from anyone on her maternal lineage, all the way back to Isha herself. We know this because my uncle’s mitochondrial DNA places him in a clan that scientists call mtDNA haplogroup I.

Just so you are clear, Isha was not merely some kind of hypothetical ancestor. She was real. While her contemporary friends may have known her by another name, Isha was once a living, breathing woman, a mother, who became a 'clan mother'. We descend directly from her, through her actual daughter and her daughter’s daughter and so on, all the way down to Granny and to us.

So, who was she? That seems to be a difficult question to answer and, although widespread, her descendants are now apparently relatively rare. She was not one of the Seven Daughters of Eve (Helena, Jasmine, Katrine, Tara, Ursula, Velda and Xenia), who the once-renowned geneticist, Bryan Sykes first identified as the mothers of all Europeans. These seven are now known to have been the maternal ancestors of only 95% of European natives. 

While relatively few in number, present day descendants of Isha are found mainly in Europe; their frequency in Ireland being 2.34%.  

Isha herself was believed to have lived roughly 21,000 years ago, give or take a few thousand years. She possibly lived in Iran or somewhere in the Near East and her descendants may have been among the first to migrate into Europe.

How cool is that - Granny Isha!

Isha, or Iris, is but a single thread in the tapestry of our ancestors. But now that they have given her a name, or two, I’d like to learn something more about her and her descendants and how they ended up in Ireland.

Sources: Byran Sykes, Blood of the Isles, London, 2006; Wikipedia article ‘Haplogroup I (mtDNA)’.


  1. That is pretty darn cool Dara! It doesn't help with brick walls like you said, but it's still really amazing what can be learned from DNA.

  2. I think so too, Ellie. It’s fascinating and someday DNA will bring down a brick-wall!

  3. We're in the same haplogroup! I1a1e specifically.


I'd love to hear your thoughts on this!