Robert Traill (clergyman)

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Robert Traill
Rector of Schull
Mullins hut.jpg
Mahoney's sketch of Traill visiting a dying man's home in 1847
ChurchChurch of Ireland
DioceseCork, Cloyne and Ross
In office1832–1847
Personal details
Birth nameRobert Traill
Lisburn, County Antrim
Died1847 (aged 53 or 54)
Schull, County Cork

Rev Dr Robert Trail or Traill DD FRSE (1793–1847) was clergyman in the Calvinistic-oriented Established Church of Ireland (the influence of Calvin was rejected by the Church of England from the late 16th century). He was rector of Schull, County Cork from 1832 until his death and part-owned a copper mine in the area. Traill complained of losing tithes from the Roman Catholic population due to the 1830s Tithe War but was recognised for his compassion during the Great Famine in Ireland from 1846. He was depicted in an Illustrated London News article of the time and was the subject of a letter published in several newspapers.

Early career[edit]

Traill was born in Lisburn, County Antrim, on 15 July 1793 the son of the Venerable Anthony Trail (1755-1831) and his wife, Agnes Watts Gayer.[1]

He earned the degree of Doctor of Divinity and afterward, in 1832, was appointed the rector of Schull, County Cork.[2] He antagonised some local people with his fervent evangelical Christianity.[2][3] He translated some of the manuscripts of Josephus, a first-century Jewish historian, into English.[2]

In 1840 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh his proposer being Thomas Stewart Traill. As an "ordinary" fellow this indicates his physical presence in Edinburgh at that time, possibly to visit his cousin.[4] He probably stayed with Traill at his grand townhouse, 10 Albyn Place on the Moray estate.[5]

Traill is said to have discovered copper at the Dhurode mine on Mizen Head which first operated between 1844 and 1846. He was a major shareholder in the mine and one of its six shafts was named after him.[2][6]

Traill was involved in the Tithe War, in which many Roman Catholics refused to pay tithes for the evangelical established Church of Ireland, a fellow clergymen was killed within 30 miles of Schull, and Traill lamented that "the ungodly are rising up, and these poor deluded Roman Catholics are caballing to deprive me of my tithes, alas! What wickedness is this?".[7]

Great famine[edit]

At the outbreak of the Great Famine in 1845 Traill believed that the ventilation of the traditional storage of potatoes in pits would save them from the blight and he worked on constructing these potato pit air shafts from October 1845.[8] However he realised this would not be successful and by December was trying, in vain, to persuade the local landlords to let their tenants keep some grain so that they weren't forced to eat their seed potatoes.[9] Traill established a relief committee for his parish and wrote widely to persuade people to subscribe to it. He was shown in the Illustrated London News visiting a dying man and his family, having been sketched by James Mahoney who said of Traill that "his humanity at the present moment is beyond praise".[3]

Traill established a soup kitchen at his home to provide for the needy and wrote that "my house is more like a beleaguered fortress. Ere the day has dawned the crowds are already gathering. My family one and all are perfect slaves worn out with attending them; for I would not wish, were it possible, that one starving creature would leave my door without some-thing to allay the cravings of hunger".[2] In February 1847 he showed Commander James Crawford Caffin of the HMS Scourge some of those in the parish affected by the famine. Caffin wrote to a friend that "In no house that I entered was there not to be found the dead or dying ... never in my life have I seen such wholesale misery, nor could I have thought it so complete." Caffin's letter was published in various newspapers, an act which brought some relief efforts from the British Government to Schull. However by March this appeared to have ended when Traill stated "the distress was nothing in Captain Caffin's time compared with what it is now".[10] Traill is said to have spent most of his income on relief for the needy.[11]

Death and legacy[edit]

Traill died of "famine fever" (typhus) on 21 April 1847.


He was married to Anne Hayes (d.1890).[12]

He left a large family including two sons, three-year-old Robert Walter Traill and baby Edmund. The family moved to Dublin, where Robert studied civil engineering and Edmund medicine at Trinity College before they abandoned their studies to become ranchers in Argentina. Robert Walter Traill's son was Johnny Traill, the noted polo player.[13] Another of Traill's grandsons was John Millington Synge, the playwright.[2] His great-great-great granddaughter is TV producer and writer Daisy Goodwin. Goodwin wrote Traill into an episode of ITV's Victoria which told the story of the Great Famine. Traill was played by Martin Compston.[14]


  1. ^
  2. ^ a b c d e f Newman, Kate. "Robert Traill". Dictionary of Ulster Biography. Retrieved 5 October 2017.
  3. ^ a b Coogan, Tim Pat (2012). The Famine Plot: England's Role in Ireland's Greatest Tragedy. St. Martin's Press. ISBN 9781137045171.
  4. ^ Biographical Index of Former Fellows of the Royal Society of Edinburgh 1783–2002 (PDF). The Royal Society of Edinburgh. July 2006. ISBN 0 902 198 84 X.
  5. ^ Edinburgh Post Office Directory 1840
  6. ^ "Dhurode Mine (Carrigacat Mine), Mizen Peninsula, Co. Cork, Ireland". Mineralogy Database. Retrieved 5 October 2017.
  7. ^ MacKay, Donald (2009). Flight from Famine: The Coming of the Irish to Canada. Dundurn. p. 132. ISBN 9781770705067.
  8. ^ Foster, Thomas Campbell (1846). Letters on the Condition of the People of Ireland. Chapman and Hall. p. 440.
  9. ^ Coogan, Tim Pat (2012). The Famine Plot: England's Role in Ireland's Greatest Tragedy. St. Martin's Press. ISBN 9781137045171.
  10. ^ "The History of the Great Irish Famine of 1847 (3rd ed.) (1902) by O'Rourke". Project Gutenburg. Retrieved 5 October 2017.
  11. ^ Laffaye, Horace A. (2015). Profiles in Polo: The Players Who Changed the Game. McFarland. p. 54. ISBN 9781476662732.
  12. ^
  13. ^ Laffaye, Horace A. (2015). Profiles in Polo: The Players Who Changed the Game. McFarland. p. 55. ISBN 9781476662732.
  14. ^ Saunders, Tristram Fane (2 October 2017). "Victoria: what is the truth about the Irish Famine, and who was Robert Traill?". The Telegraph. Retrieved 5 October 2017.