This early Irish surname is an anglicized spelling of the ancient Gaelic O'Firghil, a compound of the elements "fear" meaning "a man" and "gal" - valour, "The gallant man"! It is said that the sept have one of the most distinguished origins in all Ireland, and descend directly from Eoghan, the brother of St. Columcille, the original St Columba, in the 6th century. The latter exiled himself from Ireland being unable to rationalise between the warring tribes, and founded a monastery on the desolate Isle of Iona. The sept was, and still is, located in County Donegal, where they were known as 'coarbs', and held a hereditary position of trust, where in effect they maintained the church lands on behalf of the Primate of Ireland. In addition the chief of the O'Freil's held the right of nominating and inaugurating the Lord of Tirconnell, the chief of the region. The clan were never numerous, and throughout history recordings have been quite rare. One of the earliest is that of Bishop Feargal O'Friel who died in the year 1299, whilst James Friel on June 24th 1847, embarked, probably from Derry, on the ship "Christiana of Liverpool", bound for New York. He was escaping from the 'Potato Famine', then at its height. The O'Friel coat of arms has a the blazon of a gold garb on a red field, with three stars and a cross. The suggested meaning is fortitude and plenty, and adherence to the Christian faith. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of Awley O'Friel, which was dated 1203, who was the Abbot of Iona, during the reign of King John of England, known as Lackland, 1199 - 1216. Surnames became necessary when governments introduced personal taxation. In England this was known as Poll Tax. Throughout the centuries, surnames in every country have continued to "develop" often leading to astonishing variants of the original spelling.
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