Alfred Richard Friel studied medicine at the University of Dublin, Ireland, and qualified as Bachelor of Medicine (MB) and Bachelor in Surgery (Bac Surg) in 1894, and Doctor of Medicine (MD) in 1895. The next year he was admitted as a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of Ireland. He was married to Sophia Seikingo (or Seekings), but they had no children.
Friel came to South Africa in 1900, during the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902), to serve as surgeon and radiographer at the Irish Field Hospital at Noupoort, Cape Colony, where he took early X-ray photos. At the conclusion of the war in 1902 he was registered to practise in the Transvaal and settled in Johannesburg. [This Dr Friel should not be confused with Dr Robert Friel, who studied at Dublin at almost the same time, was also registered to practice in the Transvaal in 1902, and did so in Potchefstroom until at least 1926].
As co-author with A.D. Wilkinson, Friel participated in writing Nature studies for South African schools (London, 1909, 136 p). By 1915 he was associated with the South African Institute for Medical Research, Johannesburg, for in that year he published a paper on "Piantication and anapiantication" in the Publications of the South African Institute for Medical Research (1915, No. 5). A second contribution to the same series, with F.S. Lister* as co-author, was titled "(1) Lysed bacterial serum. (2) Further observations on piantication. (3) A note of phagocytosis in the absence of serum" (ibid, 1917, No. 9).
Friel was a member of the South African Association for the Advancement of Science by 1906 and joined the Geological Society of South Africa in 1913. He appears to have left the country during World War I (1914-1918).
During the later part of his career, from 1918 to 1948, Friel published regularly, mainly on the use of zinc ions in the treatment of otorrhoea [a discharge from the ear] and other conditions. For example: Electric ionization; a practical introduction to its use in medicine and surgery (Bristol, 1922, 132 p); Notes on chronic otorrhoea, with special reference to the use of zinc ionization in the treatment of selected cases (New York, 1929, 87 p); and Zinc ions in ear, nose and throat work (Bristol, 1948, 59 p).