Belfast Telegraph

Ant and Dec's DNA: Declan Donnelly discovers drunken Ulster ancestor who was jailed as army deserter

Declan Donnelly (right) with co-host Anthony McPartlin
Declan Donnelly (right) with co-host Anthony McPartlin

By Christpher Leebody

A new two-part ITV show will uncover the Irish family history of one of entertainment's most famous double-acts.

Ant & Dec's DNA Journey takes a trip into the archives in search of tales of wartime glory and drunken deserters.

Guided by genealogists and historians, the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! and Saturday Night Takeaway hosts explore their maternal and paternal bloodlines across Ireland and the United States. They use DNA to discover their ancestral history and will also meet some of their long-lost relatives.

Declan Donnelly (44), who still has family roots in Desertmartin, traced his paternal line through his great-great grandfather James Donnelly, who served in the Crimean War during the 19th century.

The Newcastle-Upon-Tyne native learned that James was court-martialled and labelled a deserter.

Military expert Glenn Fisher at the Royal Chelsea Barracks in London explained that James had "gone for a soldier and he's deserted after six weeks. It would have brought shame upon his family".

Even more dramatically, the records show that James, who was from near Slieve Gallion, had been imprisoned for constant drunkenness.

Explaining the significance of this to Dec, Mr Fisher said: "He was habitually drunk, that meant really that you couldn't rely on him to be on sentry duty... if you can't be relied upon you're worse than useless."

A shocked Dec admitted the tale was "not what I was expecting at all. I didn't ever expect it was going to be a colourful history".

However, it is later discovered that "good man" James, who was charged with "loss of necessities", may have in fact sold his military equipment on enlistment in order to raise money for his struggling family at Christmas.

The show, which is scheduled to air next month, also visits the Tyneside Irish Centre where 43-year-old Ant learns that his great-great grandfather Peter won the Military Medal for gallantry at the Battle of the Somme.

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