The Clan/Sept History
Many of the Irish surnames that are now common throughout the Western world have
Gaelic Origins. The Irish Gaelic form of the name O Friel is O Firgil, which
later became O Frigil; the name means "man of valor."
Numerous spelling variations were revealed in the search for the origin of the
name O Friel family name. Before widespread literacy, a person entrusted the
proper documentation of his name to the individual scribe. As a result, a name
was often recorded under several different variations during the life of its
bearer. Variations found include Friel, Freel, O'Friel, O'Freel, Freiel,
O'Freiel, Frehill and many more.
First found in county Donegal, where they held a family seat from very ancient
times. The O'Firghil were descended from Eoghan, brother of St. Columcille. They
were hereditary co-arbs of Kilmacrenan in county Donegal.
Ireland, as an English-controlled colony in the 19th century, suffered the loss
of hundreds of thousands of its native people. The system of land ownership
often did not sufficiently provide for the tenants who farmed the land. This was
most clearly evidenced in the Great Potato Famine of the 1840s. Previous years
of great demand for grain products and livestock had run the land Down. Many
landowners foreseeing an upcoming crisis often removed families from the land or
forced them to rely on pityfully small plots where only a subsistence living
could be made. When the famines of 1845, 46, and 48 hit, many had nothing.
Disease and starvation became widespread and families boarded ships for
elsewhere any way they could. Those who went to America were instrumental in
developing the industrial power known today: many Irish were employed in hard
labor positions in factories and in building the bridges, canals, roads, and
railways necessary for a strong industrial nation. Research of early immigration
and passenger lists has shown that many bearers of the name O Friel: Morris and
Catherine O'Freiel (also spelled O'Friel) who settled in Augusta County,
Virginia in 1740; William Friel landed in America in 1709 with his wife, son,
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