The DNA De­tec­tives visit rugby great John Kir­wan.

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W hen rugby great Sir John Kir­wan signed up for The DNA De­tec­tives he made one thing clear. If the test could prove he had some Ital­ian her­itage he would be over the moon. While he is keep­ing mum about whether his wish came true, the for­mer All Black ad­mits to be­ing blown away by the chance to trace his ances­try. “It’s one of those things you’d never ever do un­less some­one asks you,” he says. “It was fan­tas­tic. I didn’t know what I was in for, or what to ex­pect, and it took a whole lot of dif­fer­ent turns so I was fas­ci­nated. “Where I ended up was un­be­liev­able. It was a high­light of my life.” Now in its sec­ond sea­son,

Rugby great Sir John Kir­wan has re­vealed how his fam­ily tree branched out in a to­tally dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion to the one he ex­pected when he agreed to take part in The DNA De­tec­tives. Kerry Har­vey re­ports.


De­tec­tives helps well-known New Zealan­ders un­cover where their roots re­ally lie and takes them around the world, revealing the dif­fer­ent cul­tures their an­ces­tors come from, the com­mu­ni­ties their fore­bears lived in and in­tro­duces them to rel­a­tives they never knew ex­isted.

Dur­ing his rugby-play­ing days, Kir­wan scored a con­tract to play in Tre­viso, north­ern Italy, and he de­cided Italy was his spir­i­tual home. He met his wife Fiorella there, they raised their fam­ily in the re­gion and the cou­ple now live in both New Zealand and Italy, where they have a thriv­ing wine busi­ness. “There was a song Wher­ever You

Lay Your Hat and I’m a lit­tle bit like that, you know. I love New Zealand, it’s my home, I feel con­nected here but I also love Italy,” he says.

Like many peo­ple, Kir­wan has grown up with fam­ily sto­ries about past gen­er­a­tions.

“I know my mum’s side from a rugby point of view. My mother’s brother, Teddy, he was one of the first Bar­bar­ians, All Black tri­al­list, played for Otahuhu,” he says, adding his fa­ther’s ances­try has fa­mous links too.

“The Kir­wans are Ir­ish and ap­par­ently we’re re­lated to the Kennedy fam­ily in the States.”

How­ever, it seems his DNA took him on a very dif­fer­ent jour­ney and to places he never ex­pected.

“It’s one of those re­ally amaz­ing things. You can’t re­ally pre­dict which di­rec­tion it’s go­ing to take,” Kir­wan says, adding he was a bit blind­sided when he re­alised the in­ves­ti­ga­tors were fol­low­ing his mother’s DNA, rather than that of his fa­ther.

“I don’t know why, and for ab­so­lutely no rea­son, I thought it would fol­low my fa­ther’s ances­try. A gen­er­a­tional as­sump­tion is what my nieces would say. For me it was re­ally crazy and re­ally, re­ally in­ter­est­ing and took a whole lot of dif­fer­ent turns.” He roped in his fam­ily for help. “When it came to look­ing up pho­tos and try­ing to find in­for­ma­tion and that sort of stuff, I was use­less. So my sis­ter Ju­dith got fairly heav­ily in­volved and so did my mother,” he says, adding they can’t wait to see where their ef­forts led.

That jour­ney took him across the Tas­man – and much fur­ther afield – and in­tro­duced him to peo­ple whose ex­is­tence he never sus­pected.

“I think the most amaz­ing thing for me was walk­ing into this house in Townsville and bla­tantly see­ing my aun­tie’s face. You go, ‘Wow, this is my fam­ily be­cause this woman looks ex­actly like my Aunty Mor­ven’ and that’s freaky, just re­ally freaky,” he says.

“There’s no way that she wouldn’t have been of my blood be­cause she looked ex­actly like my aunty. Those types of things were re­ally crazy.” Kir­wan’s ex­pe­ri­ence on The DNA

De­tec­tives has in­tro­duced him to a whole new world and left him keen to in­ves­ti­gate other branches of his fam­ily tree.

“I’d do it all again to­mor­row,” he says, adding that some of the fam­ily sto­ries the in­ves­ti­ga­tion re­vealed cap­ti­vated him.

“Some of the side sto­ries, like (one mem­ber of) our fam­ily get­ting on a boat, be­ing mar­ried to some­one who dies on the boat and then they marry some­one else on the boat by the time they get to In­dia – things that used to hap­pen back then that were just the norm. It was re­ally amaz­ing.”

“The Kir­wans are Ir­ish and ap­par­ently we’re re­lated to the Kennedy fam­ily in the States.” – John Kir­wan

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