Traill, Anthony (1838–1914), provost of TCD, was born 1 November 1838 at Ballylough, Co. Antrim, eldest son among three sons and three daughters of William Traill, who had a medical degree and owned an estate at Ballylough, and his wife Louisa, daughter of Robert Ffrench of Monivea Castle, Co. Galway. William Traill had two daughters by an earlier marriage. The family had many relatives in the Irish gentry; Henrietta Gayer (qv) (née Jones) was a great-great-aunt. Robert Traill (1793–1847), William Traill's brother, was rector of Schull in west Cork, and died of famine fever after valiant efforts to help his parishioners in the great famine; Robert's grandson was John Millington Synge (qv). Anthony Traill was educated at the Collegiate School, Belfast, then entered TCD (1856), and took part enthusiastically in college life; he was placed first in the mathematics scholarship examination in 1858. Graduating BA (1860), he came first among the moderators in mathematics and experimental science. He considered a career in law and entered King's Inns (1860), but when he decided to sit the fellowship examinations in TCD, he studied ten hours a day for nine months a year for five years. As the holder of a five-year university studentship, he was appointed assistant to the professor of natural philosophy; his teaching and tutoring greatly helped the development of the school of engineering, which was his main college responsibility.
He was elected a fellow of TCD in 1865, and awarded the degree of LLD the same year; after further study, he was awarded the degrees of LLB (1870), MB and M.Ch. (1869), and MD (1870), all from Dublin University. Though he had undertaken medical studies only so that he could become a more efficient college tutor, Traill was particularly proud of his degree in medicine; he liked to boast that he acted as an obstetrician to his own family. A member of the university council from its formation in 1874 and an ardent tory, he gained a reputation for his part in the college politics of the day. He was an unsuccessful candidate for the Dublin University parliamentary seat in the 1875 by-election, and came to prominence in his unsuccessful bid in 1879 to buy the provostship in an attempt to stop it falling into liberal hands. Years later, he was the first medical man to be appointed to the provostship (26 March 1904). He was not particularly cultured or dignified, and his egoism made him the butt of many jokes. An obituarist (Northern Constitution) noted that in public speaking Traill ‘paid but small attention to the literary graces of expression’, but commended his readiness in debate and force of argument; he also earned respect for his huge reserves of energy, his unequalled appetite for work, and for managerial skills. He successfully resisted proposals in 1906 to amalgamate TCD with the RUI colleges, and subsequently pushed the college through cautious but crucial modernisation of its governance and structures. A leading figure in the successful campaign to admit women to TCD, he used the extra income from the fees paid by female students to acquire and equip Trinity Hall.
Traill was a strongly built, extremely forceful man; his usual pace was a trot; his habit of walking with his head down gave the impression that he was constantly charging at something, which in fact he generally was. He was captain of the cricket team at TCD and a long-time racquet champion at the university, winning fourteen of the seventeen championships he contested. He also liked golf, shooting, and fishing, was an enthusiastic mountaineer, and often lectured on his exploits in the Rocky Mountains. He was a religious man, of the muscular Christian variety rather than a contemplative, but he claimed that he read a chapter of the Bible in Hebrew every evening. An original member of the Church of Ireland representative body, he presented the annual financial reports to the general synod for many years. He served on behalf of the Church of Ireland as a member of the Educational Endowments (Ireland) Commission (1885–92). Similarly, when he was commissioner of national education for Ireland (1901–14) he worked hard to protect the church's interests.
Traill owned property in Co. Antrim, Co. Down, and King's Co. (Offaly) and represented the landlord interest on the Fry commission on Irish land acts (1897–8); as an Ulster unionist of strong convictions, he also played a role in local politics. It was widely believed at the time that it was the influence of the Ulster unionists, coupled with his work for the church, that got him the post of provost in 1904. A magistrate, grand juror (1861), high sheriff (1882), and DL (1904) of Co. Antrim, he was influential in his own parish, where he paid for the building of a school and helped restore the church building. He was also chairman of the company that founded the famous Portrush and Giant's Causeway electric tramway. In 1883 he and his youngest brother William Acheson Traill (qv) launched the project in hopes of facilitating tourism and the exploitation of Co. Antrim's mineral resources. Together the brothers provided funding and overcame many technical difficulties to establish the first public tramway in the world to be powered by hydro-electricity: 40,000 passengers travelled on it in the summer of 1884. Traill received honorary LLD degrees from the universities of Glasgow (1901), Aberdeen (1906), and St Andrews (1911), and was made an honorary fellow of the RCSI and of the RCPI in 1905.
He married (25 June 1867) Catherine Elizabeth (d. 1909), daughter of Capt. Stewart Moore of Ballydivity, Co. Antrim; they had six sons and three daughters, of whom one son died in infancy. The family lived at Ballylough House, Bushmills, Co. Antrim, and the provost's house, TCD, where Traill died 15 October 1914 after several months of illness. He was buried in Billy parish church, Co. Antrim, after an impressive funeral. An oil-painting of Traill (1906) by J. Sydney R. Rowley is in TCD. His younger brother Maj. Robert Gayer Traill (1839–1908) was a temporary RM in the 1880s.