This surname is one of a group which are Scottish in origin, but generally accepted today as being purely Irish. The clan descends from the MacNeills of the Western Isles, who settled in Ireland before the 15th century, apparently accepting as their overlord Con O'Neill of Ulster, in 1471. They were for centuries employed as mercenary soldiers (gallowglass), and seem to have been a mix of catholic and protestant. The usual spelling form today is Macgreal, although this is only one of many spellings including McGarel, McGarrell, McGreal, McGrayle, McGrail, MacGrill, Mcgrull, McGeirl, McGriele, and no doubt others. The change from MacNeill to firstly, Mag Reill, and then to the 'modern' forms, is a result of dialect and poor spelling, it is difficult to tell which is most to blame! What is certain is that from the 17th century onwards the surname became popular in Counties Mayo and Leitrim, and it is said the clan members were substantial freeholders in those areas. Examples of the surname recordings include Hugh MacGreal of Leitrim, christened there on February 18th 1716, and Michael McGreal, who married Margaret Kelly, at Paddington, London, on July 28th 1829. Ann McGrale was a 'famine' emigrant on the ship 'Arabian', bound for New York on June 19th 1846, whilst James McGeirl, also recorded as McGairl, and McGirl (!), appears in the registers of Oystermouth, Glamorgan, three times between August 28th 1869, and August 6th 1871. The coat of arms associated with the surname has the blazon of a red field, a silver wolf rampant, and a gold chief. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of John MacNeill, which was dated 1329, granted the lands of Larglanfeild, Scotland, during the reign of King Robert the Bruce, of Scotland, 1306 - 1330. 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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