Margaret Stokes collection moves from the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland to the Royal Irish Academy

A unique collection of papers of Irish Antiquarian Margaret Stokes (1832-1900) has been transferred to the Royal Irish Academy by the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland (RCPI). The collection is an important addition to the Academy’s existing Stokes collection and includes a variety of sketches, illustrations and photographs.  Considered to have been ‘the most important Irish female antiquarian of her day, Stokes’s work was a precursor to the later groundbreaking publications by Dr Françoise Henry, whose archive is also held by the Academy. 

Margaret Stokes, was born in Dublin in March 1832, the eldest daughter of Dr William Stokes and his wife Mary (née Black). William Stokes was a leading physician of his time, and President of RCPI on two occasions, in 1849 and again in 1866. Margaret was introduced to the study of Irish antiquities through the interest of her father and his friends, including Edwin Wyndham-Quin, 3rdEarl of Dunraven, and George Petrie, who were frequent visitors at the Stokes’s home.

Margaret’s interest in antiquities and her abilities as an artist resulted in the production of a number of works on Irish Christian art and architecture during the 1870s and 1880s. During the 1890s, she undertook long visits to France and Italy where she researched the lives and relics of early Irish saints in the area.  This resulted in the production of two books - Six months in the Apennines (London, 1892)and Three months in the forests of France (London, 1895).Illustrations used in both of these works, as well as George Petrie’s Christian inscriptions in the Irish language(Dublin, 1872-8), which Stokes prepared for publication, are included in the transferred collection.

Margaret also published a series of art lectures presented in Alexandra College Dublin in 1880. Her final work on the high crosses of Ireland was unfinished at the time of her death in 1900. She was an honorary member of the Royal Irish Academy.

Dr Philip McEvansoneya, Assistant Professor, Dept. of the History of Art & Architecture, TCD, has said: “The contribution made by Margaret Stokes to the development and expansion of Irish historical research cannot be underestimated. In addition to her achievements in her own right - by no means easy for a woman scholar in the nineteenth century - it was through her efforts that substantial publications appeared.

“Although billed modestly as their editor, Stokes was in fact the essential collaborator who rewrote, completed and edited the work of George Petrie and the Earl of Dunraven. The collection of material transferred from RCPI to the RIA is the largest body of material relating to Margaret Stokes. It throws valuable new light on Stokes's travels and working methods. The drafts and preparatory material for her own publications show her interest in the history of Ireland and her desire to show how closely it was connected with that of Europe. The archive also contains evidence of how Stokes used both sketches and photography to record sites and monuments and her pioneering use of the latter.”

Dr Paul Darragh, Dun’s Librarian RCPI has said “Historically RCPI and the RIA have had many links, with many distinguished individuals holding Fellowships of both institutions. I am delighted that this transfer of material is taking place, further strengthening the links between the two institutions. Margaret Stokes was a fascinating individual; the transfer of our Margaret Stokes holdings to the RIA will unite two collections of her papers in one institution. This will enhance the value of both collections, facilitating research into Stokes and Irish art and archaeology.”

Siobhán Fitzpatrick, Academy Librarian has said “This new acquisition complements the Academy’s significant Stokes archive and the many other antiquarian resources of national importance made available to researchers by the Academy Library.  We are delighted to incorporate the RCPI collection into the existing resource and acknowledge the enlightened thinking which enabled this donation by the RCPI.”