This project is open to anyone with both Irish and Caribbean ancestry (or anyone who suspects they have).
You are particularly welcome to join this project if:
- you have an Irish surname
- AND you live in the Caribbean or can trace your ancestry back to the Caribbean
- AND you can provide your Irish surname line back as far as you can go (or alternatively a link to your online family tree)
If you have an Irish surname and either live in Ireland or can trace your ancestry to Ireland, you can join the project if you have been tested yourself AND are willing to sponsor a Y-DNA-37 marker test for someone from the Caribbean with the same surname as yourself. Please contact the Project Administrator for details.
Welcome to the DNA part of the iCARA project. iCARA stands for Irish Caribbean Ancestry - Reconnecting through DNA. This is a project that aims to help people with Irish Caribbean ancestry to reconnect with BOTH their ancestral Irish homeland AND with their distant cousins living in Ireland today.
But let me give you some background to the project. And we start with the 1600’s - a turbulent time in Irish history. The rebellion of Hugh O’Neill came to an end followed by the Flight of the Earls in 1607. A policy of banishment of military prisoners was introduced, and so began the exodus of the Wild Geese. The Plantation of Ulster got underway but was interrupted by the Catholic Rebellion of 1641 with its much publicised atrocities. Cromwell’s invasion and subsequent subjugation of the Irish resulted in the death or disappearance of half a million people and a precipitous drop in the population of about 40%, a much greater fall than that seen during and immediately after The Famine.
Against this backdrop, many Irish people left for the Caribbean. In the early 1600’s, some were Wild Geese, some were captured soldiers sent as slaves, and others sold themselves as indentured servants into conditions which were no better than slavery. Still others were adventurers, intent on making their fortunes from sugar and slavery. And they went to places like St Kitts, Antigua and Montserrat (where in the 1630’s, up to 70% of the white population was Irish). But between 1652 and 1657, Cromwell’s armies rounded up tens of thousands of Irish men, women and children, drove them to Cork and across to Bristol, and then shipped them off to work as slaves on the sugar plantations of Barbados and the New American Colonies. Estimates of the number of Irish enslaved vary from 50,000 to 130,000, representing anywhere between 4% and 15% of the then total population.
However, the descendants of these Irish exiles are very much alive today, and this is reflected by the plethora of Irish Surnames in the Caribbean, as well as the celebration of Irish culture in places like Montserrat, the only country outside of Ireland to celebrate St Patrick’s Day as a National Holiday.
This possibility of reconnecting people in the Caribbean with their cousins in Ireland has served as the inspiration for the formation of the iCARA project – Irish Caribbean Ancestry – Reconnecting through DNA. The 3 cornerstones of iCARA are Reconnection, Reunion, and Restoration. Reconnection involves reconnecting with both the Ancestral Irish Homeland as well as with distant cousins alive today both in Ireland and in the wider Irish diaspora. Reunion involves reuniting with genetic cousins, but also with the local community in Ireland from whence the common ancestor came. And restoration is an ongoing activity that aims to help regain some of what was lost.
The first step is reconnecting with the Ancestral Homeland … but where do we start? To answer this question, it helps to understand where the people reconnecting might be living today and to look at how their respective ancestral lines got there. The common ancestor to these distant cousins may have lived in the Clan’s ancestral homeland, where they had lived for maybe hundreds of years. Or perhaps the family had moved from there by the 1600’s to another location nearby and it was from here that the family member left for the Caribbean. There may be cases where documentation exists to help identify this last homestead prior to the exodus from Ireland, but such cases may be rare. After arriving in the Caribbean, the Irish may have stayed in the same place for many centuries, intermarrying with African or Native people, or they may have moved within the Caribbean, or more recently may have migrated outside of it completely, perhaps to the US or the UK. Similarly, the relatives remaining in Ireland may have been forced from their lands, or may have been part of subsequent rural to urban migration, or may have emigrated with the many thousands of Irish during and after the Famine.
There are several important consequences that follow from this:
Firstly, the descendants of the common ancestor from the early 1600’s could be anywhere, on both the Caribbean side and the Irish side.
Secondly, in the absence of documentation to the contrary, the location of the Clan Homeland may be as close as we can get to defining the Ancestral Homeland of the Caribbean & Irish cousins.
And lastly, if a reunion is to be planned, there are various locations in Ireland where it could conceivably take place. And each location represents an opportunity for local communities to become actively engaged in their own local research & development, in preparation for reunion and restoration.
The good news is that reconnecting with the Clan Homeland could be a relatively simple process that may not require any DNA testing. If the surname is a single-origin surname, then existing resources may help the individual pinpoint the surname to a relatively well-defined area quite easily. However for surnames with multiple origins, deciding which is the origin of the ancestor in question can be a difficult task. DNA testing can help pinpoint the most likely origin, using a methodology developed by Dr Tyrone Bowes of IrishOrigenes. iCARA can also help DNA testees with this process.
The next step in the Reconnection process is reconnecting with distant cousins. And this will require DNA testing, specifically of the Y-chromosome. The concept is that both the Y-chromosome and the Irish surname will have been passed down in an unbroken direct male line from father to son, from the common ancestor to each of the distant cousins, one on the Caribbean side, the other on the Irish side. A close or exact match on the Y-DNA test between two people sharing the same surname indicates that the two individuals shared a common ancestor within the last several hundred years, and certainly since the introduction of surnames (about 1000 years ago). Taken together with the known history of the Irish in the Caribbean, and any additional information from the family tree research of the individuals concerned, it is reasonable to conclude that they share a common Irish ancestor in the early 1600’s. In this way, a connection with living relatives can be made, and a family that has spent almost 400 years apart, can be reunited.
iCARA will manage the recruitment of people for DNA testing, help them interpret their results, help them pinpoint/confirm their Clan Homeland, and help them find genetic cousins who may have already been tested. If there are no matches in the existing database on FamilyTreeDNA, then it may be possible to ask the local Ireland Reaching Out volunteer in the Clan Homeland to enquire if there are any local people with the same surname willing to take the test.
Once the distant cousins have been reconnected, the next step is reunion. Initially this may occur virtually, by a simple exchange of emails and then perhaps over the phone. And iCARA will help, advise and guide the testee as needed when contacting distant cousins. Reuniting with the local community is a second important step and it is proposed that iCARA will introduce the testee to their local Ireland Reaching Out volunteer who will be best placed to help make these connections, which ultimately may result in a visit by the Caribbean cousin to meet his Irish cousin (or vice versa), and perhaps the local community, similar to the visit of President Obama to his Irish Ancestral Homeland.
Restoration is an ongoing activity between descendants and local communities to restore some of what was lost. For the individual, this may mean gaining a sense of belonging, a sense of self, of Family, Kinship, and Community; for the local communities, this may mean rediscovering local knowledge and local history, commemorating the past, and honoring the ancestors; and for the wider society, it may mean creating a legacy of restoration from what was a legacy of slavery.
In the final paragraph of his book "To Hell or Barbados", Sean O’Callaghan says “It is my fervent hope that families in Ireland … will band together and do something for their long-forgotten brethren”. I believe that time has come.