This interesting surname is of Scottish origin, although it is also numerous in Counties Derry and Antrim, Northern Ireland. M(a)cNeill is a Gaelic patronymic meaning 'son of Neil', and has many variant spellings, for example, MacNeil, MacNeill, MacNeale, MacNeel, and also MacGreal and MacReill, with a common dialectal change of the initial 'n' to 'r'. In Scotland there are two clans of this name, of 'Barra', and of 'Gigla'. It is thought that the Irish McNeills are the descendants of the Scottish Gaels from the Western Isles who settled in the north of Ireland, before the time of the Plantation of Ulster. The first immigrants came as Gallowglasses (mercenaries) and it is recorded that they were employed as far west as the borders of Connacht as early as 1346. The Norsemen also adopted the personal name Neil, which appears in the Scandinavian languages as 'Njal'. Robert the Bruce confirmed to one John McNeill 'five pennylands of Larglanfeild in le Rennys Galwia', in 1329. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of Gilbert McNeill, which was dated 1329, Register of the Great Seal of Scotland, during the reign of Robert 1, 'The Bruce', King of Scotland, 1306 - 1329. 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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