Friday, January 19, 2007

Red hair is most common in Ireland

Robin McKie:

Red hair today is generally associated with the Scots and Irish, but there have been no consistent efforts to establish the prevalence of the condition.

“It has actually become harder to find the prevalence of red hair today,” said Rees. “More and more women — and some men — now dye their hair and we simply have no idea if a redhead is a real one or if a blonde is a redhead under the dye. As a result the incidence of red hair in Britain is still a bit of a mystery.”

Enter the scientists of the People of the British Isles project: thanks to their efforts, this most distinctive characteristic is now opening up its mysteries for the first time. Testing their white cell samples for two of the half-dozen red-hair versions of the MC1R gene, they were able to show their frequency in each area of the British Isles. The results were intriguing.

Where one is the maximum value, they got figures of 0.16 and 0.23 for the frequencies of red-hair genes in Cornwall and Devon. The frequency in Oxfordshire was 0.07; in Sussex and Kent 0.13; in northeast England 0.11; in Lincolnshire 0.07; and in Cumbria nil. In Wales the figure was 0.21, and in Orkney a high 0.26. But the highest was in Ireland. Using data from other research studies, the team got a figure for Ireland of 0.31, confirmation of the stereotypical image of the red-haired Irishman.

The results are remarkable, as Sir Walter Bodmer, the Oxford geneticist leading the project, acknowledges: “I was amazed at them. I didn’t expect to see something like this.”

The research gives us, for the first time, an insight into the startling numbers of native people who have been described as having red hair in ancient times.

Here is why red hair is so common in Ireland:

But why do we have such numbers in these parts of the British Isles today and not others? The answer, says Bodmer, is that red-hair genes were common among the first Britons and that populations in the archipelago’s fringes still carry their bloodline.

“Genes for red hair first appeared in human beings about 40,000 to 50,000 years ago,” agrees Rees.

These genes were then carried into the islands by the original settlers, men and women who “would have been relatively tall, with little body fat, athletic, fair-skinned and who would have had red hair”, says David Miles, of English Heritage.

Redheads therefore represent the land’s most ancient lineages. So if you want an image of how those first people appeared, don’t think of a hairy savage with a mane of thick black hair. Contemplate instead a picture of a slim, ginger-haired individual: Prince Harry, perhaps, or the actress Nicole Kidman who has Scottish and Irish descent.

Why did those early Britons have so many redheads in their midst in the first place? Is there an evolutionary advantage to having red hair in this part of the world? According to Rees, the answer may be yes.

The MC1R variants that cause red hair also have an effect on the skin. As a result, redheads do not make enough of the dark pigment melanin to protect them against the sun’s powerful ultraviolet rays. Their skin rarely tans. It just burns or freckles.

In Africa, where modern humans first evolved 150,000 years ago, this would have been fatal. In northern Europe, however, melanin-free skin could have provided an advantage because we make vitamin D in our skin when sunlight shines on it.

Dark-skinned people were protected against the African sun, but their ability to make vitamin D would have been badly affected in relatively gloomy northern Europe. This could have caused rickets, resulting in weak bones and curved legs — bad news for a hunter-gatherer. Rickets is particularly damaging for women, as it increases pelvic deformations, raising the risk of death in childbirth. So, the theory goes, we evolved white, melanin-free skin that has no dark pigment to block sunlight and cause rickets. Red hair was a side effect.

So there it is: being a redhead could mean you possess an evolutionary advantage over non-red-haired people.

Genetic differences between Britain and Ireland

39 Comments:

At 5:41 AM, Anonymous yankinulster said...

Of course no one will be surprised by the result of Ireland having the most redheads. But what I find interesting, from a genetic point of view, is that the trait of having red hair is a recessive (versus dominant) gene. That is, odds are that a black-haired and red-haired couple will produce a black-haired baby. What intrigues me is when a dair-haired couple produce a red-haired baby, as was the case of my wife. What is that genetic trigger?

I am light-brown-haired, but with red-hair tints all over. The only way to know whether the red hair genetic trait that I'm confident I'm carrying (my paternal grandmother was a red-head) will assist in the determination of any future red-head is to go off and have some babies! I'm not there yet, by the way.

 
At 2:29 PM, Blogger Diarmid said...

What intrigues me is when a dair-haired couple produce a red-haired baby, as was the case of my wife. What is that genetic trigger?

It must mean that both of her parents carried a copy of the recessive gene for red hair. From what I understand, people only have red hair if they carry two copies of the gene, inheriting one from each parent.

 
At 3:59 PM, Anonymous SpringHawk said...

[i]"What intrigues me is when a dair-haired couple produce a red-haired baby, as was the case of my wife. What is that genetic trigger?"[/i]

according to Mendel, recessive traits are preseved at a ratio of 1 to 4.

so, if a dark-haired couple has 4 children, we would expect 1 of the kids to have red hair, if both parents harbor the red recessive gene.

BTW,my parents were from Mexico, and i was born with red hair. my three older sisters have dark hair, so the Mendel ratio worked for me!!!

 
At 7:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

ok.. I'm red- from two dark haired parents. My maternal grandfather was red. My husband has black hair- of our 4 children 1 is dark, 1 blond, 1 dark with hints of red and 1 firey red! My husbands maternal grandmother was also red i believe!

 
At 3:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I secretly always wanted a red haired child or grandchild. Last year my red haired grand daughter was born. She has Scottish and Irish heritage with a mix of other nationalities, and is simply beautiful!! Red hair and beautiful blue eyes...who could ask for more?

 
At 8:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My grandmother was born in Ireland. I do not know if she was a redhead but one of her children was, my aunt. So I have the gene on one side but not the other.

Old Irish saying" A face without freckles is like a night without start"

 
At 8:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes,there are many new studies that say that red hair and blonde hair came to Ireland from the Vikings (Scandinavia)as well as blonde/blue eyes(because all of these are actually mutations-mild albinoism-hence the fair skin going along with it-and you are right,albinos didn't fair(excuse my pun!)as well in Africa,black-dark brown hair came to Ireland from Spanish invaders.

 
At 12:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My ex-husband and i both have naturally dark hair (almost black) and both of our children have bright red hair...we were very surprised.

 
At 1:23 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is this simple regarding "Black Irish or Dark Haired Irish People" ...

I am Irish ..... my hair is so deeply red that it actually appears Black until you either view it up close in the bright Sun or Bright Lighting.

I also have Brown Eyes and Dark Complexion .... Just look at other Irish People like Colin Ferrell and Rory Cochran(e).

It is just not true that all Irish people are little short Fire Red Headed, Green Eyed, Milk Skin looking Leprechauns ..... more of us are of a Dark Complexion and have some Dark Skinned Attribute. Yet, you can see the Reddish Hue in our skin and even though we have darker skin, we suffer sunburn and skin cancer at an astonishing rate .... Go figure huh ??

The "Old Type Movies" have made people think the wrong way about Irish folk and it is just silly.

And the "Black Irish" thing ... is as much an "Urban Legend as it is Truth" .... so take your pick ... Spain did occupy Ireland for a long time and the two Cultures Married and had Children with Both Attributes.

It is what it is ...

 
At 8:50 PM, Blogger Benson said...

My grand father was a red head, my mother and two of your brothers are reds. My hair black but both of my sisters are reds. So I married a red haired woman. neither of our kids are reds.

 
At 6:54 AM, Anonymous Jesus D Zeus said...

Red hair people are the ONLY descendants of the Adamite race. The Chaldean word 'ADAM" and the Adamite-Ionian word 'PHOENIX' are synonyms and mean 'RED' or "AUBURN-RED' It is deceitfully presented by Hermes in Genesis that all races are descendants of Adam. This was intended to cover up the genocide of the Adamite race.

See "Synoptic History of Mankind" and "Reappraisal of Thoth-Hermes", free downloads from Jesus' Site at http://jesusdzeus.com

Jesus D Zeus

 
At 12:22 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

We all come from one race it has been proven.

 
At 3:09 PM, Blogger La bella italiana said...

Scotland has the most concentration of naturally redheaded people (13%), with Ireland second (10%), US has only (2%) of which I am one.

"Scotland has the highest proportion of redheads; 13% of the population has red hair and approximately 40% carries the recessive redhead gene.[9] Ireland has the second highest percentage; as many as 10% of the Irish population has red, auburn, or strawberry blond hair.[10] It is thought that up to 46 percent of the Irish population carries the recessive redhead gene. Red hair reaches frequencies of up to 10 percent in Wales.[11]"

 
At 1:50 AM, Anonymous kate said...

fair skin did not exist 50,000 years ago.Black haired savages? why do I feel like Im reading a 19th century tome?

 
At 2:27 AM, Blogger Airbear said...

Old Irish saying" A face without freckles is like a night without start"

I just wanted to say thank you for making my day and prob. may others. haha i sound pathetic, but I've never liked all of my freckles i've had, i was always embarrassed by them cause i'd get weird looks and mean people sayin sh**, specially since i lived in Alaska haha I loved it there though. Anywho thank you >.<
Wow, this is my first time looking up how i got my red hair freckles and blue eyes, neato!

 
At 10:38 PM, Blogger Myrtone said...

In which part of Ireland is red hair most common, is it Northern Ireland?

 
At 8:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's starS. A face without freckles is like a night without stars.

 
At 1:14 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i come from dark headed parents my mom light skinned and freckled with blue eyes. and dark hair. my dad black hair dark skin and brown eyes. my kids father is black haired dark skinned and brown eyes. i am dark hair with reddish tint dark skinned and green eyes. my kids are daughter dark skinned medium brown hair with reddish tint and green eyes. my son blonde when young dirty blonde now light skin and a red beard with green eyes. my last son had black hair blue green eyes and dark skin and a red and black beard.

 
At 5:38 AM, Blogger emo_bunny_bop said...

My dad has dark brown hair, light brown eyes and my mom had deep, red hair, light brown eyes. I am my father's only child though i have a half sister from my mother. my sis has tan skin and brown hair. our fathers Have the same traits, but i am very pale with hair a little darker than new copper and dark almost black eyes. my adopted sister is blond with blue eyes. she says she believes she has Scottish traits. I don't know what her birth parents look like, but i wonder if she could have some scottish blood in er? and a random fun fact, i'm a 3rd generation redhead. My grandmother has hair the color of my mom's, but mine is the lightest shade in my family. why is that if my dad had dark hair??

 
At 11:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why do Irish people have thin lips?

 
At 8:40 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Red hair is not a "condition" as you have stated in the opening of your article. "Trait" or "characteristic" would be more appropriate.

 
At 12:55 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

People with red particularly auburn with black eyebrows are said to be the most genetacly advanced types of homo-sapien (human) and this precist type are mostly from Scotland (uk) it is profoundly believed this causes superiour intelect hence inventions such as T.V, Telephone the best and second best inventions ever (both scottish and from red-heads) this tiny nation has also brough the worlds biggest empires to its knees (110-230 A.D) roman empire swept through and stopped at scotland, (800-1589) numeras failed attempts as England(uk) tried to dominate Scotland. And its all thanks to the superiour race, the sons of Adam

 
At 1:03 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Did u know the hebrew term for red is "adom"

 
At 1:09 AM, Anonymous Gary, Dublin said...

Whats tht guy sayin ireland has most gingers for?? Scotland has the highest population of gingers its common knowlege google it

 
At 1:16 AM, Anonymous Birminghamno1 said...

Its mad how irish people make redheads look funny but the scots make it look scary ha ha

 
At 1:30 AM, Anonymous Damien, Edinburgh said...

Im scottish and ive got native blood red hair, not considered ginger like the irish have my eybrows and facial hair and even chest hair is jet black (my pubes are ginger tho, wierd)

 
At 9:03 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

An irish guy tried to blow up my car.....He burned his lips on the exaust pipe

 
At 4:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My father is Slavic. My mother is Scottish (clan Campbell from the west of Scotland and clan Ogilvy from the east). I have brown hair but I have a red beard and red hair in my nether regions. I also have fair skin and lots of freckles.

 
At 8:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My cat is a red head. Does that make him an inventor of superior intelligence?

 
At 2:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Im a red head and proud of it as was my granmother,father and various shades of red brothers and sisters
My son who is not a red head has a ginger stuble and his girlfriend is ginger as was her granny
so more gingers on the way !
Long may we carry on
w

 
At 5:31 AM, Blogger Delainie said...

The study of red hair and eye color of Scots and Danes.

http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2156/10/88

 
At 12:14 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Scotland land of gay red hair transvestites in schoolgirl skirts

 
At 8:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

depends where this survey is done; if it is done in Ireland, of couse the more red hair will be found there, and so on; you forgot that red hair -along with black and blond is found in all the British isles, only that in Ireland is the trademark, right? in england the redheads are not so popular, that's why they are low key!
albertoC

 
At 12:25 PM, Blogger bryn small said...

Forget about countrys think north and west.northern ireland and scotland more red .southern uk more darker skinned and stocky.These people were in this region when all of western europe was one land mass.There is a spanish connection but this is thousands of years old when all was connected and you could also walk between uk and scandinavia so sure to have simular traits .sea rises people go either way..people who live in uk know most in scotland.Also alot of brits pale freckly skin blue eyes BLACK hair have close links with red

 
At 12:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well the Welsh are said to represent some of the earliest settlers in Britain, and that's according to geneticists such as Walter Bodmer, who was himself involved with the new Welcome Trust genetic tests..

Yet some of the Welsh tribes were said to of been dark, but we only have the Romans to rely on for that The Romans claimed the Picts were of Germanic origin, which doesn't seem to be the case.

I believe its more likely that the red hair gene evolved in these Isles, rather than brought in by early settlers.

Ireland, Scotland and then Wales does have the highest amount of redheads though.

 
At 12:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ireland is said to have the highest amount of redheads 14% ) Scotland 13% followed by Wales 10%. Next is Cornwall, Western England followed by Brittany...

It cant be Germanic. German redheads are approx 3%.

Weren't some of the Gauls said to of been redheads....

 
At 5:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wikipedia has a very interesting article on the origins of red hair, and on its particular biological advantage.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_hair

In addition, it is highly offensive to encompass Ireland in the term "British Isles." We are not British in any shape or form. Before the uneducated step in here, Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom, not Great Britain.

 
At 3:49 AM, Blogger Alexis Reagan said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 3:53 AM, Blogger Alexis Reagan said...

I don't have light orangey hair, mine is kind of dark, and I have ocean blue eyes, and I am able to tan. Both of my parents have dark dark brown hair. My mom having brown eyes and my dad having green eyes. I am like 98% recessive. The only thing I have that is dominant is I don't have a widows peek. I don't favor either one of my parents when it comes to looks, I swear I'm adopted...

 

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