Clan MacSporran Association

A Brief History

The name MacSporran means literally "Son of the Purse" and by tradition the MacSporrans were the purse bearers (or treasurers) to the Lords of the Isles.

It is said that Donald, first Lord of the Isles, appointed a court of 16 office bearers in the twelfth century. These were either close family members or persons of high position, and each was given a hereditary title, including Beth (physician), Murrich (bard), Lavery (speaker) and Sporran (pursebearer). Thus only one person at any one time held the name until 1497 when the Lordship was annexed by the Stuart King of Scotland. Today the title Lord of the Isles is nominally held by Prince Charles.

A 1910 edition of an early medieval chronicle "The Annals of Man" comments that Paul Sporain was a Prince of the Isles and a chief at the time of Somerled. A charter of 1168 refers to a reigning chief Paul O'Duine as "Pol an Sporain". The legends of Kintyre record this Paul as leaving his daughter Eva as his heir and from her marriage with Gillespie Cambel came the founding of Clan Campbell.

The graves of Paul and Gilbred Sporain are reputed to lie amongst the tombs of ancient kings on the Isle of Iona off the west coast of Scotland. Martin in his book "A Description of the Western Islands" says of his visit to Iona in 1695, "In the West End is the tombs of Gilbrid and Paul Sporan, ancient tribes of the Mack-Donalds".

Paul's gravestone (10k)
The book "Antiquities of Iona" by Robert Graham of 1850 documents the position of the gravestone of Paul An Sporain in the north-east corner of St Orans chapel. In about 1926 a new floor was laid in the chapel and the stones were moved. The stone identified as Paul's can now be located in the left hand corner, third along, standing upright. This sketch shows the slab, 1.8m high and 0.6m wide, depicting a serpent entwined around a column of eleven discs, supposedly silver coins. There is no name or other inscription on the stone.

The earliest recorded person of the modern spelling was Duncan Roy McSpairand, a tacksman of the Twa Duchries in 1541. This farm area is near Carradale on the east coast of Kintyre. A tacksman was an administrator of lands for the landowner.

A coat of arms, though now faded, exists in Dungiven Priory in northern Ireland. It depicts a sheaf of wheat and reaping hook surmounted by a dove with an olive spray. At the left is a lion rampant, at the right an eagle with opening wings. The motto on a partially unrolled scroll is "Pro Patria" with four Scottish thistles. Legend states that two brothers came from Kintyre to Ireland about 1600 and around 1620 a Gilaspick (Archibald) McSparran is recorded in Coleraine.

The Clan MacSporran Association was formed in 1975 and held a gathering in Scotland every year until it was dissolved in 2002.

Gathering (15k)
Some of the sixty MacSporrans who attended the inaugural gathering of the Clan MacSporran Association in 1975.

The name MacSporran seems to originate from the Kintyre penninsula in western Scotland and is commonplace there even today. The McSparran and McSparron variants can invariably be traced back to County Antrim in the north east of Ireland and they can also still be found there. In fact only a few miles of water separate the Antrim coast from Kintyre. The names McSparren, McSparen, McSparrin and McSparin occur today only in north America but are almost certainly also of Irish descent. The name McSpurren is found in Scotland and in Canada.

Although the MacSporrans are not accepted as a distinct clan by the Lord Lyon, they are recognised as a sept of the Clan Donald (see the links page). As a sept, the Association does not have a chief, although it does have its own tartan, based on the MacDonald design but with a distinctive gold stripe.

Tartan (9k)

And Purcell? It is known that some MacSporrans changed their name to Purcell possibly to avoid persecution. Apparently they considered the Scottish 'sporran' to be equivalent to the English 'purse'. Although it is not suggested that all Purcells have a MacSporran ancestor, certainly some do. For those interested in this surname, the Purcell Family of America has its own web site.

A history of the McSparran family in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania was produced about 25 years ago and a copy can be found here. Note that this document is rather large (350k). It can be downloaded and then printed with Adobe Acrobat Reader. If you don't have Adobe Reader it can be downloaded from here

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