Ernest Sheldon Friel studied at Trinity College Dublin, graduating in 1908. He immediately went on to gain his Masters degree in dental science in 1909 and then went to study under Angle in America. On his return, in the same year, he established an orthodontic practice in Dublin, the first specialist orthodontic practice in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.
In 1910 Friel became the Lecturer in Orthodontics at Trinity College Dublin. He later became a Doctor of Science there in 1928 and in 1941 became the first Professor in Orthodontics in Europe.
Friel was an active member of various dental and orthodontic societies. He was a founding member of the BSSO in 1907 and later became its President (1924). He was the President of the Irish Dental Association (1932), of the European Orthodontic Society (1935-1937) and of the Odontological Section of the Royal Society of Medicine (1949). He was also awarded many prizes and honours. In 1948 he was awarded the Fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, which was followed by the Fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh in 1951. The Villian Prize was awarded to Friel in 1957 from the Fédération Dentaire Internationale and in 1960 he was the first person outside of North America to be awarded the Ketcham Award from the American Board of Orthdontics.
Friel was a leader in the use of stainless steel in orthodontics. After witnessing Lucien De Coster’s demonstration of stainless steel at the 1931 International Dental Congress in London, Friel travelled to Belgium to learn more from De Coster himself. He began using stainless steel bands in 1935 and later spent time developing the use of stainless steel in orthodontic with H.T.A. McKeag. Friel’s other research interests were muscle testing and training, jaw function and form and the migration of teeth and occlusion.
Friel also had a keen interest in the future of the profession and in 1945 led a campaign for greater specialisation in orthodontics.