We have found that one of the subgroups in our DNA Project genetically matches the DNA signature, or modal, for an early Irish cluster of septs associated with Ely Carroll and the O'Carroll family of that area. Ely Carroll refers to an old area covering parts of today's counties Offaly, Laois and Tipperary (the exact boundaries changed over the centuries with the rising and falling of ruling tribes). A number of Irish names originated there, but Ely Carroll is most strongly associated with a powerful and wealthy O'Carroll line. When this ruling O'Carroll family lost their lands to the English in the 1600s, they were given a land grant in Maryland and became important players in colonial America, including one who was the only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence. The Bowe members in this DNA subgroup, along with other names connected to Ely Carroll, match today's US descendent of that O'Carroll line with a genetic distance placing their common ancestor back in Ely Carroll. To our knowledge, this is the first time the Bowe name has ever been associated with Ely Carroll.
Our Distribution and Frequency review of the Bowe surname in Ireland shows that it originated in or near southwest Laois in the Ely Carroll region. Therefore the genetic signature of this Ely Carroll subgroup most likely represents the founding Irish Bowe family. Some of its branches now go by Bowes, possibly only emigrant ones but not all the emigrant ones.
There are other, smaller Bowe subgroups from Ireland (some currently with just one participant) in the DNA Project. Some of these are from the same region as this Ely Carroll group, but their Y chromosome markers do not match Ely Carroll. It is more than likely that some of these represent non-paternal events wherein a male of another surname (different Y chromosome) conceived a son by a Bowe woman raised in this larger Ely Carroll Bowe family.
Update added April 30, 2011: In fact, using autosomal DNA we have found a matching segment between two people, one from the Ely Carroll Bowe subgroup, and one from another Bowe subgroup from the same region with a different Y-chromosome. This strongly suggests these two groups are historically related through a Bowe woman, even though they have different patrilineal Y chromosomes.
The traditional Irish Bowe surname histories state that Irish Bowe originated in Cork. We will continue to explore whether there is any evidence of this Ely Carroll line having come up from Cork, whether a different early Irish line taking the name Bowe came from Cork, or whether our discovery overturns those histories and instead shows the Gaelic precursors to the Bowe name have always been in the Midlands. Further growth in the DNA Project should help to clarify this.