The zebra mussel, Dreissena polymorpha (Pallas), a bivalve species originally native to the Black and Caspian seas, has invaded Ireland in the last decade. Five microsatellite loci were used to investigate genetic diversity and population structure in 10 populations across Europe (Ireland, UK, the Netherlands and Romania) and the Great Lakes (Lake Ontario and Lake St Clair). Levels of allelic diversity and mean expected heterozygosity were high for all populations (mean number of alleles/locus and HE were 10–15.2 and 0.79–0.89, respectively). High levels of polymorphism observed in Irish populations suggest that the Irish founder population(s) were large and/or several introductions took place after foundation. Significant deficits of heterozygotes were recorded for all populations, and null alleles were the most probable factor contributing to these deficits. Pairwise comparisons using Fisher exact tests and FST values revealed little genetic differentiation between Irish populations. The UK sample was not significantly differentiated from the Irish samples, most probably reflecting an English origin for Irish zebra mussels. No significant differentiation was detected between the two Great Lakes populations. Our data support a northwest rather than a central or east European source for North American zebra mussels.