This Danish and Norwegian surname of NIELSEN was from a given name of Irish origin, from the Gaelic NIALL, thought to mean 'Champion'. The name was adopted by Norseman in the form NJALL and was brought to England both directly from Ireland by Scandinavian settlers and indirectly by the Normans. The name has numerous variant spellings which include NEILL, NEILD, NEELE, NEELD, NIALL, NEELS, NILES, NEILSON, NEILANE and NEYLON, to name but a few. About the year 890-93, a body of Norwegians from Ireland entered Yorkshire and were followed by a greater number, probably between the years 919 and 952. These Norwegians had been settled in Ireland sufficiently long to become partly Celticized and they have left their mark on the modern map of Cumberland and North Yorkshire in a series of place-names containing Irish loan-words. O'Neills is the usual Irish form of this very common surname. They are a branch of the ancient royal family of Tara. They are said to have the oldest traceable genealogy in Europe, starting from around 360, their surname being the first hereditary surname ever adopted in Ireland; it was assumed by Donell O'Neill, grandson of Niall of the Nine Hostages. The red hand of Ulster is taken from the arms of the O'Neill family. In post-medieval times they held the titles of Earl of Tyrone and Earl of Clan Connell. Hugh O'Neill, 2nd Earl of Tyrone (1540-1616) was the leader of an Irish Catholic revolt against English rule (1593-1603). After the 'flight of the earls' in 1603, some of the family settled in Europe, where descendants included Jorge O'Neill (died 1901) a peer of Portugal, who was also styled Comte de Tyrone, having been certified by Somerset Herald in 1896 to be a lineal descendant of the royal house of O'Neill. Another notable member of the name was Carl August NIELSEN (1865-1931) the Danish composer, born in Norr-Lyndelse, near Odense, Funen, the son of a house painter, who was also a village fidler. He became bandsman at Odense, and in 1883 entered Copenhagen Conservatory. In 1915 he was appointed director of Copenhagen Conservatory. He was Denmark's greatest 20th century composer and exerted a great influence on the musical development of Denmark.
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