Stokes, Margaret M'Nair (DNB01)
STOKES, MARGARET M'NAIR (1832–1900), Irish archæologist, eldest daughter of William Stokes, M.D. [q. v.], and Mary, daughter of John Black of Glasgow, was born at York Street, Dublin, in March 1832. Sir William Stokes [q. v. Suppl.] was her brother. At her father's house she was thrown in early girlhood into daily intimacy with James Henthorn Todd [q. v.], George Petrie [q. v.], William Reeves (1815–1892) [q. v.], Sir Samuel Ferguson [q. v.], Edwin R. W. Quin, third earl of Dunraven [q. v.], and others of her father's antiquarian friends, from whom she early derived the taste for archæological investigation which became the absorbing passion of her later years. Her aptitude in this direction was stimulated also by the careful training of her father, from whom she received precisely such a training as might best fit her for the work she was afterwards to accomplish. But while her taste for research was thus precociously developed, it was not until she had passed middle age that her real services to Celtic art and archaeology were rendered, her early life being fully occupied with home duties. Thus it was not until death had removed those to whom she ministered that she found leisure to 'commence author;' and, as she was wont to say of herself in her last years, she 'only came out at fifty.'
Miss Stokes's first important work was undertaken with no thought of publication, and was indeed the chance outcome of her friendship and admiration for Sir Samuel Ferguson. It took the form of illustrations and illuminations of Ferguson's poem, 'The Cromlech on Howth,' the text of which she adorned with admirably illuminated initial letters after the examples in the book of Kells. Her reproductions were so generally admired that it was arranged to publish an illustrated edition of the poem, which accordingly appeared in 1861. Sir Frederic Burton [q. v. Suppl.], referring to this book shortly after its publication, wrote of Miss Stokes's share in the volume: 'The initial letters are exquisite, and form in themselves quite a manual of Scoto-Celtic ornamentation.' The capacity and knowledge of Celtic art shown in this work led to Miss Stokes undertaking the editorship of the Earl of Dunraven's monumental volumes entitled 'Notes on Irish Architecture' [see Quin, Edwin Richard Windham Wyndham-, third Earl of Dunraven]. She had previously visited the Isles of Aran and other remote parts of Ireland still rich in archæological remains, in company with her father, Petrie, and Lord Dunraven. Dunraven, dying before he could complete his projected work, left a substantial bequest to defray the expenses of the publication of his 'Notes' by Miss Stokes. To these volumes, which appeared in successive years (1875–7), the editor contributed many drawings and illustrations.
The next few years were fruitful in editorial labours less elaborate, but scarcely less valuable. Among other productions may be enumerated 'Christian Inscriptions in the Irish Language, chiefly collected and drawn by G. Petrie,' 1871-8, and an English edition of Didron's 'Christian Iconography' (2 vols. 1886). She also published 'Early Christian Architecture in Ireland,' 1878; and 'Art Readings for 1880,' being lectures to ladies at Alexandra College. In 1886 she wrote for the South Kensington series of handbooks the volume on 'Early Christian Art in Ireland.' In the latter year she contributed to 'Blackwood's Magazine' a notice of her lifelong friend, Sir Samuel Ferguson. By this time Miss Stokes's position and reputation in her special field of learning was assured; and while her name and work thenceforward became known among a wider public, the sphere of her investigations became enlarged. In 1892 she published 'Six Months in the Apennines: a Pilgrimage in search of Vestiges of the Irish Saints in Italy,' in which she has traced the wandering footsteps of the early Irish missionaries, and has illustrated with pen and pencil the localities associated with S. Columbanus. In 1895 she followed this up with 'Three Months in the Forests of France,' a work devoted to the same topics. In the same year was published her 'Notes on the Cross of Cong,' with elaborate reproductions of that remarkable relic. On all these works Miss Stokes laboured with extraordinary enthusiasm and scholarly zeal. No trouble was too great for her; and, though well advanced in life, she journeyed long distances, and went through severe physical exertion to secure success in her photographic and other reproductions of the ancient ecclesiastical monuments of Ireland,by means of which she sought to elucidate the growth of Celtic art. The marked success of her methods led to her undertaking the large task of illustrating 'The High Crosses of Ireland.' On this work she was busily engaged when the brief illness which terminated her life overtook her. An instalment of it, on the 'High Crosses of Castledermot and Darrow,' was published in 1898 under the auspices of the Royal Irish Academy, a body of which Miss Stokes had been elected an honorary member in 1876. A further instalment, embracing all that she lived to complete, will shortly be published by the Academy. Miss Stokes was also an honorary member of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland.
Miss Stokes died at her residence, Carrig Breac, Howth, co. Dublin, on 20 Sept, 1900.
[Notices in the Dublin Daily Express, 22 Sept. 1900; Athenæum, 29 Sept. 1900; Life and Letters of Sir Samuel Ferguson; private information; Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, vol. xxx. p. vii.]