The old Killeshandra Rectory.

‘Hales Chronology’ author woke students with cold water

In his Times Past Column this week, Jonathan Smyth looks at the Hales Chronology author and professor who woke sleepy students at Trinity each morning by throwing cold water on them. He later came to live in Killeshandra...

One of the great personalities of Trinity College Dublin was Bishop William Bedell, the university’s former 17th century Provost, famed for his ambitious work of overseeing the Old Testament Bible translated into Irish. Another less remembered Trinity College figure was a professor, the Rev William Hales DD who, like the prelate Bedell, came to live in Co Cavan, settling in Killeshandra.

William Hales was born on April 8, 1747, the son of Samuel Hales, curate of the Cathedral Church in Cork City. William’s early education was by a maternal uncle, the Reverend James Kingston who served as prebendary of Donoughmore. As a mere 17-year-old, Hales was admitted to Trinity College Dublin where he obtained a BA degree and later achieved a Doctorate of Divinity.

In 1868, he became a fellow at Trinity College Dublin, a role reflecting his position as a senior academic and it was here that he was then employed as a tutor. Although still a young man, he made an attempt to disguise his boyish looks by wearing a white wig so as to prevent the parents of students from disputing his abilities on account of his youth by which they assumed he lacked experience.

What may you ask was Hales like as a tutor? Well, it seems he was a pleasing enough teacher on the surface, and that students found his lectures ‘pleasant’. However, the same could not be said for his method of rousing the sleepy Trinity scholars from their beds each morning, since some being reluctant risers, required additional encouragement and this was provided by Hales who threw a container of water over each offender, promptly causing them to spring from their beds.

In 1782, he was appointed professor of Hebrew and ‘oriental languages’.

As a scholar of prolific proportions, Hales became a noted author with his first publication appearing in 1778, published in London, and was titled ‘Sonorum Doctrina Rationalis et Experimentalis’, which as a scientific book set out to defend and validate Sir Issac Newton’s theory of sound.

Killeshandra Rectory

In 1788, Reverend Hales resigned from his situation as professor at Trinity College Dublin and, already having taken Holy Order, he applied for and became rector at Killeshandra, living at the rectory and enjoying life and the fresh Cavan air. In 1791, he married Mary Whitty, a daughter of Archdeacon Whitty. They had a family of two girls and two boys.

When the rebellion of 1798 broke out, Hales was somewhat alarmed, and requested the help of the government to protect himself and the surrounding neighbourhood in the Killeshandra area. His call for assistance was answered when a detachment of troops arrived to maintain the peace.

Most of Professor Hales’s books are what we might at times politely refer to as comprehensive ‘tomes’. His most notable work titled ‘An Analysis of Chronology’, he had published in three volumes between 1809 and 1812 after having taken him about 20 years to research and write. The time taken to research a book can be many years in the making as I can testify to myself, having gathered material for some 15 years, which eventually went into the book I wrote on ‘All Saints’ Church Cootehill.’

Hales’ work appeared in three volumes dealing with the events of the Bible in a chronological order with an extensive look at early world history. In the Preface to ‘An Analysis of Chronology’, he wrote: ‘This work is the result of many years study of the History, Antiquities and Prophecies, respecting the principal nations recorded in the Bible; namely, the Hebrews, Israelites, and Jews, the Assyrians, Babylonians, and Egyptians, the Medes and Persians, the Grecians and Romans.’

As the publication expanded Hales became concerned with the increasing costs involved and he stated in 1809: ‘Notwithstanding the additional expense incurred by this enlargement of the work itself, and by an unforeseen rise of 30 percent on paper’, but this did not dampen his spirits and he further added, that he was ‘determined not to raise the price of the work’.

He points out that living in Killeshandra in those times, he was disconnected from the press being situated remotely and it was with much gratitude that he acknowledged his ‘literary’ and ‘worthy friend’ the Rev Lancelot Sharpe who had the kindness to review the proof sheets. In total, the Rev Hales penned 22 books.


The dictionary of national biography, 1885-1900, had a very informative article about William Hales, which was written by Warwick William Wroth.

In the account, he recorded that, ‘Hales was a good parish priest’ to his flock in Killeshandra and added how he was ‘equally pleasing’ to the gentry and ‘lower orders’ in the community being a kindly and ‘well-informed’ person who liked to regal listeners with anecdotes.

Each night when putting his children to bed he would tell them stories from the ‘Arabian Nights’ and loved to play a game of ‘wild horses’ with them.

He never lay about in bed and always was up and ready at his desk by six o’clock each morning where he would spend the day in ‘learned studies.’

Up until 1819, he wrote mostly for publication.

However, in the following year he developed depression, which affected him for the rest of his life, leaving him with a disordered mind.

William Hales died in 1831 at the age of 84 years. His books include ‘Essay on the Origin and Purity of the Primitive Church of the British Isles’; ‘Analysis Fluxionum,’ in Maseres’s ‘Scriptores Logarithmici’; ‘Methodism Inspected’; ‘Irish Pursuits of Literature’; and ‘Dissertations on the Principal Prophecies respecting Christ’.

Finally, many of the local historians who call to do research in Johnston Central Library will be familiar with the three-volume work, ‘An Analysis of Chronology’, commonly known as ‘Hales Chronology’.


Well-heeled passengers on the road train at Belturbet