July 2014

The Earls of Barrymore DNA Project

Tue, 29 July 14 09:03

A coalition of historians and academic scientists, including Dr René Gapert, a researcher in forensic anthropology at UCD School of Medicine & Medical Science, is using modern genetic science to unravel the mysteries of a prominent Irish family. Using techniques like those employed with the remains of King Richard III, they are about to conduct DNA testing of Richard Barry, 6th Earl of Barrymore, who died in Ireland in the 18th century. 

The Barry family came to Ireland in the 12th century with Norman and Welsh invaders and ruled vast tracts ofland in County Cork, later expanding to the rest of Ireland and, through immigration, throughout the world. The Barry’s had more than their share of controversy and turmoil.  The family titles passed between branches and some of the heirs are alleged to have murdered their competitors. Richard Barry was descended from one branch, the Barry Roe or Red Barry’s, and the investigators hope that his DNA will help to determine how the branches are connected and how the Earls of Barrymore relate to living men with the Barry name.

Jim Barry, the project administrator, is a former US government analyst and university professor who has been researching his ancestry for many years. Speaking about the project, Barry said

In my academic research, I focused on integrating different disciplines and this project is a great opportunity to blend history and modern genetic science.  Like many Irish-Americans, I didn’t know where my ancestors lived before coming to America.  It has only been in the past couple of years that DNA testing, combined with newly available records, showed that they came from a tiny village in the western part of County Cork.  DNA has helped me to find cousins who still live there and my hope is that this project may link me to other Barry’s in Ireland.

Barry is one of dozens of men who have done DNA tests and are eager to find out how they might be related to the Earl.  One of them, Roger DuBarry, an English family historian, had Barry ancestors who left Ireland for France in the 15th century and changed their name there.  Others live as far away as Australia and South Africa.

Beyond the historical value, there is also excitement about the prospects for scientific discoveries.  Dr René Gapert, a researcher in forensic anthropology at UCD School of Medicine & Medical Science , aims to establish a biological profile of the skeletal remains in the crypt. René has worked as a consultant forensic anthropologist on national and international cases and projects. Using forensic anthropological and anatomical methods, Dr Gapert can establish the age-at-death, sex, ethnicity and stature from the remains.  René will also examine the bones for any signs of illnesses and trauma suffered during the lifetime of the individual or closer to the time of death.  He has received licences under the National Monuments Acts 1930-2004 which permit him to remove bone and tooth samples for DNA analysis and radiocarbon testing. 

His colleague at UCD, Dr Sean Ennis, a clinical geneticist, whose team developed the programme Ancestry Mapper which looks at local and global population relationships, hopes that the project will help to refine methods for forensic analysis and DNA testing that will be valuable both to the academic community and to other Irish families who are exploring their roots.

All of the professional members of the team are donating their time, and the project will begin as soon as funding for logistics has been secured. Information about the project can be found at https://sites.google.com/site/barrymorednaproject