Author summaryPrevious studies of the genetic landscape of Ireland have suggested homogeneity, with population substructure undetectable using single-marker methods. Here we have harnessed the haplotype-based method fineSTRUCTURE in an Irish genome-wide SNP dataset, identifying 23 discrete genetic clusters which segregate with geographical provenance. Cluster diversity is pronounced in the west of Ireland but reduced in the east where older structure has been eroded by historical migrations. Accordingly, when populations from the neighbouring island of Britain are included, a west-east cline of Celtic-British ancestry is revealed along with a particularly striking correlation between haplotypes and geography across both islands. A strong relationship is revealed between subsets of Northern Irish and Scottish populations, where discordant genetic and geographic affinities reflect major migrations in recent centuries. Additionally, Irish genetic proximity of all Scottish samples likely reflects older strata of communication across the narrowest inter-island crossing. Using GLOBETROTTER we detected Irish admixture signals from Britain and Europe and estimated dates for events consistent with the historical migrations of the Norse-Vikings, the Anglo-Normans and the British Plantations. The influence of the former is greater than previously estimated from Y chromosome haplotypes. In all, we paint a new picture of the genetic landscape of Ireland, revealing structure which should be considered in the design of studies examining rare genetic variation and its association with traits.
A recent genetic study of the UK (People of the British Isles; PoBI) expanded our understanding of population history of the islands, using newly-developed, powerful techniques that harness the rich information embedded in chunks of genetic code called haplotypes. These methods revealed subtle regional diversity across the UK, and, using genetic data alone, timed key migration events into southeast England and Orkney. We have extended these methods to Ireland, identifying regional differences in genetics across the island that adhere to geography at a resolution not previously reported. Our study reveals relative western diversity and eastern homogeneity in Ireland owing to a history of settlement concentrated on the east coast and longstanding Celtic diversity in the west. We show that Irish Celtic diversity enriches the findings of PoBI; haplotypes mirror geography across Britain and Ireland, with relic Celtic populations contributing greatly to haplotypic diversity. Finally, we used genetic information to date migrations into Ireland from Europe and Britain consistent with historical records of Viking and Norman invasions, demonstrating the signatures of these migrations the on modern Irish genome. Our findings demonstrate that genetic structure exists in even small isolated populations, which has important implications for population-based genetic association studies.