Thursday, July 2, 2009

McVities and Tea

Working with the Ulster Heritage DNA Project has been fascinating. History is much different in reality than the pre-packaged often agenda driven pulp variety we are commonly asked to digest, and Ulster history is more complex than most. Now this could drive us to tears, but really it should not, as it is wonderfully rich and older than the hills. It is epic and our people have made their mark in the four corners of the world. Hard to top that.

When I started my path to study Ulster history I knew there was going to be trouble when I was reading up on the 16th Century Clann Mhic Dhónaill taoiseach named Somhairle Buí Mac Dónaill. He pretty much ran things from Coleraine east to Cushendun in his day. I read an Irish written account that described him as a ‘Scottish warlord,’ and I then read a different Irish account of him that called him a ‘Scottish pirate.’ Now which was it, lads?

Notions such as native Irish, Ulster Scots, etc., quickly become unravelled when examined through the microscope lens of Y chromosome DNA testing. A new world and more accurate history comes into focus. You will see a Donegal family that has distant kin to a family in the Hebrides, etc., reflecting the movement of clans in days gone by. One family will be quite Irish, one family quite Scottish, perhaps even different religions now, but the same family. When you get your DNA test results in, it is much like having a time machine; you see where your people were living centuries ago, even millenniums ago. A world of families and their long forgotten tribal affiliations appear.

Barry R McCain with his cousins in County Donegal Ireland, a long way for a Mississippi boy!

I created one of the early Ulster family DNA projects, the McCain DNA Project, and it was very successful. My first DNA match was to a McKane gentleman, born in north Antrim. He immigrated in 1979 to the USA. When I was over in fall of 2004, I did stop to visit his (and my) in-laws and relations in Ballyrashane Parish, County Antrim. I pulled up my rented Toyota Matrix and knocked on their door, a rural place, still a working farm. My people left in 1718, so it did take a few minutes of explanation to sort out exactly how we were kin, but I saw the very moment of their realisation. The expression on their faces changed, yes, and they knew how we were connected. Yes, you are ‘our’ McCains… It was McVities and tea and a nice chin wag then.

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