Their are four main branches of Clan Phail. One branch was associated with Clan Cameron in the 16th century. Another established itself in Argyll in the 18th century and was quite prolific. Yet another branch was found far in the north of Scotland and was associated with Clan Mackay. The fourth branch, which had its own chief, formed part of the ancient Clan Chattan confederation.
Clan Phail is one of four families who form part of the ancient blood of the Clan Chattan Federation which originally lived in the area later called Lochaber. Late in the 13th century, Angus, 6th chief of Mackintosh married Eva, the heiress of Clan Chattan. Angus thus became Captain or Chief of Clan Chattan; and though he lived in Lochaber for a time, he later removed to his home in eastern Inverness-shire. Many members of the old Clan Chattan moved with him, including the ancestors of Clan Phail. The old Gaelic name of the Clan Phail was Conchie Dhu or Condochy Doye, and a Paul Conchie Dhu is reputed to have accompanied others of the Clan Chattan on their migration from Lochaber to Strathnairn (valley of the Nairn River).
One of the earliest occurrences of the name of Phail in official records was is 1414, when Gillemore M'Phale was a witness to the official act of seisin whereby Donald, Thane of Cawdor, came into possession of his deceased father's lands of Dunmaglass, located in the upper Nairn valley. In 1490, Donald Mackfaill
witnessed an indenture signed at Croy between Duncan Mackintosh, Captain of Clan Chattan, and Hugh Rose, Baron of Kilravock (thus indicating the stature of early Phails within the Clan Chattan federation).
Since at least the early 1500's, Clan Phail was associated with the lands of Inverarnie, located about 12 kilometers south of Inverness on the River Nairn and about eight kilometers west of Loch Moy, ancestral home of the Mackintoshes. The Phails of Inverarny were recognized as leaders of the Clan and as such signed a number of important Clan Chattan bonds and documents throughout the 17th and 18th centuries. The earliest known Phail connected to these lands was Gillies MacPhall who married Margaret Mackintosh in the late 1400's. In 1547, Duncan Makconquhy Dow (Macphail) in "Innourerny" leased half of the towns of Tullich and Elrik in the Lordship of Strathnairn from his cousin, Mariota Euyne Thomas Makewin. In 1555, Duncan's son Paul inherited his deceased father's interest in Tullich and Elrick and conveyed the same to his son, Duncan M'Phaill M'Condochy Doye, in 1577.
It was perhaps this Duncan's son or grandson who, in 1631, received a long tack (lease) to Inverarnie from Hugh Rose, Laird of Kilravock. These lands were held by the descendants of Duncan until 1773 when they reverted to others. In connection with this loss of Inverarnie, Sir Andrew Macphail of Canada wrote,
"With the loss of the lands, the coherence of the family was destroyed. The larger part drifted southward and took root in Argyllshire, where they became absorbed into the general life ... and lost the sense of the relationship. Nearly all of those who now bear the name look no further back than this new home. The remnant that remained ... died out, so that not one of the name now remains [in the area]." The last of the old chiefly line, Paul Macphail, died in Australia in the early 1900's.
At least one branch of Clan Phail was established in Inverness following the Reformation. A Finlay Macphail was one of the bailies of the burgh in the late 1500's, and an Andrew Macphail was mentioned in the 1560's and 1570's in burgh records as exhorter, minister of Inverness and Petty in the Gaelic language and assistant master of the grammar school. This Andrew wrote a history of the Clan Chattan which was later found in the parsonage in Croy where Andrew's son Andrew served as minister. The elder Andrew was, according to the manuscript, the grandson of Paul Gow or Macphail. The younger Andrew served at Inverness and Petty before taking up the charge at Croy. Another Macphail, Severinus, was minister of the church at Petty about the same time. Members of Clan Phail were found throughout the parishes of eastern Inverness-shire, Nairnshire and Moray during the 1700's and first half of the 19th century. Emigration to Australia, Canada, the United States and the cities of southern Scotland greatly reduced these numbers to the point where, as Sir Andrew Macphail pointed out, few of the name remain the Inverness area.
Other Clan Phail members found their way to Argyllshire, and a history on this branch of the Clan is currently being constructed. In addition, not a few Phails were found in the Glasgow area in the 19th century; their history, too, is being constructed. Members of Clan Phail are now found throughout the world. Besides those remaining in Scotland, a number of Phail families have roots in the southern United States, and there are several different groups of families found in Canada. One group produced Agnes Macphail, the first woman member of the Canadian parliament. Another produced Sir Andrew Macphail - a physician, academic and writer from Prince Edward Island who was knighted by King George V for this
humanitarian and literary service to the Empire. Other branches found their way to Australia and New Zealand, were not a few of the name are found today.