Thursday, 15 August 2013

The First Sproules in Ulster

Was Robert Spreull, who was buried in the Castlederg Cemetery in 1689, the first Sproule settler in Ireland? This was certainly the belief of some early family historians. They said that Robert came from Renfrewshire in Scotland in the 1650s with his wife and sons, he settled in Tyrone and the Sproules spread from there.  These Sproule family historians were, coincidentally, all from Tyrone themselves, so they were understandably a little biased!

Now, thanks to the great work of transcribers and the wonders of the internet, we have much more data available. We can see clearly that Robert was far from the first, and that there were many more families of Sproule settlers than any of these early family historians had imagined.

The Earliest Sproule Records

The earliest records of Sproules in Ireland are in the Muster Rolls of 1630. The Muster Roll was a list of all able bodied men who were fit to fight in a war.  There was one Sproule in the Muster of Donegal in 1630:
·    James Spreull in the Barony of Raphoe on the land of  “The Lord Duke of Lynox”. James had one sword.
Raphoe parish is very near to County Tyrone. However, there was another Sproule recorded in a quite different part of Ulster:
·    Claudius Sprowell in The Barony of Keenaght on the land of Thomas Phillips, of Limavady

Twelve years later in 1642, there was another Muster in Donegal, and now we have two Sproules there. They were both in the same parish of Raphoe:
·     In Sir Robert Stewart's Company mustered at Raphoe is Private Robert Sprowle.
·     In James Hamilton's Company also mustered at Raphoe, Private James Sprule.

The Sproules in the Hearth Money Rolls

The Hearth Money Rolls was a tax in 1665  based on the number of hearths in a household. It gives us a much better picture than the Muster Rolls and it reveals a very surprising pattern of Sproules in Ulster!

In 1665 there were already at least 15 households of Sproules, and they are spread across the northern counties of Ulster in the following clusters:

Sproule Family Groups in Ulster 1665
1.     Clondermot Parish in the townland of Gortin, four households. The Sproules have obviously been here for some time.  This is the New Buildings area of County Derry / Londonderry. 

2.     The Town of Belfast, four households, again a well established group

3.     Ballymoney Parish in Antrim, the townland of Bravallen – there are two households

4.     Raphoe Parish – two households. Archibold  in Lismontigly  and John Sproul in Stranorlughan

5.     Mevagh Parish, this is round the town of Carrigart in the north of Donegal. John Spruel of Glanree and Jennett Spruel, widow, of Glanree

6.     Kirkinriola Parish in Antrim, on the Ballymena Estate, one household

7.     Ardstraw Parish in Tyrone, in the townland of Lissaleen, now Lisleen, we have one household, that of one Robert Spreull.

Non-paying Sproules

Even this is not a complete picture, as many folk were successful in avoiding paying the Hearth tax. A good example of this is when we look at Limavady, where there was a Sproule in the first Muster of 1630. This Sproule family does not appear on the Hearth tax, and yet there is good evidence that they were still there.  There was a will recorded in 1705 for a Margaret Sproull, from Rafad in the Parish of Aghanloe. Aghanloe is a townland on the outskirts of Limavady.

Conclusion - The Early Sproules

What we can definitely say is that there were at least seven separate families of Sproule settlers who established themselves in the early 1600s. They were spread across the northern counties of Ulster and they were a much more diverse group that was previously thought. They were not just leasing or owning land, they were also moving into towns.

In Tyrone, where my family originated, the first Sproule who appeared on record was indeed Robert Spreull in 1665. Robert lived at that time in Lissaleen, now Lisleen, in the parish of Ardstraw. 

Where did Robert of Lisleen come from? Was it directly from Scotland or was it possible that he came from one of the more established Ulster family groups? Was he the only Tyrone Sproule in 1665 or were there others who did not appear on the Hearth Tax?  Robert was certainly my ancestor, on one side of my family. On the other side are the Tullymoan Sproules, when did they arrive? These are some of the questions which I will explore in the next posts.

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