High resolution, multi-proxy records of ice-rafted debris (IRD) flux and provenance in the NE Atlantic detail the development, variability and decline of marine margins of the last glacial circum-North Atlantic ice sheets. Coupled lithological identification, Sr and Nd isotopic composition and 40Ar/39Ar ages of individual hornblende grains reduce ambiguity as to IRD potential source region, allowing clear differentiation between Laurentide (LIS), Icelandic and British (BIS) ice sheet sources (the Icelandic and BIS are collectively referred to as the NW European ice sheet, NWEIS). A step-wise increase in the flux of IRD to the core site at ∼26.5 ka BP documents BIS advance and glaciation of Ireland. Millennial-scale variability of the BIS at a ∼2 ka periodicity is inferred through clusters of pulsed IRD fluxes throughout the late glacial (26.5-10 ka BP). Combination of these European IRD events and the ∼7 ka periodicity of LIS instability is thought to account for quasi-synchronicity of the NWEIS and LIS IRD pulses at Heinrich event (H) 2 and H1, previously suggested to represent the possible involvement of the NWEIS in the initiation of H events. Furthermore, the lack of extensive NWEIS marine margin is inferred prior to H3 (31.5 ka BP), such that no 'European precursor' event is associated with either H5 or H4. This suggests that 'precursor events' were not directly implicated in the collapse of the LIS, and the persistent instabilities of the BIS that are clustered at a 2 ka periodicity are incompatible with the concept that both H events and their 'precursors' are independent responses to a common underlying trigger. © 2007 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.