Early scholar and illustrator of medieval Celtic art. Stokes was the daughter of William Stokes (1804-1878), a physician, and Mary Black (Stokes). Her paternal grandfather was Whitley Stokes (1763-1845) a physician and author of an English-Irish dictionary. Her father's friends included the archaeologists and scholars James Henthorn Todd (1805-1869), George Petrie (1790-1866), William Reeves (1815-1892), Sir Samuel Ferguson (1810-1886), and Edwin R. W. Quin (1812-1871), third earl of Dunraven; these family friends inspired an interested in archaeology. Stokes' earliest writing was an English revision of the book Christian Iconography by Adolphe Napoléon Didron in 1851. She, her father, Quin and Petrie visited the Aran Islands in 1867. Stokes, however, did not personally publish on Celtic art until over age fifty. Her lifelong friendship with Ferguson a poet and reviver and Celtic mythology resulted in illustration of a poem of Ferguson's, "The Cromlech on Howth," using illuminated initials from the Book of Kells. Public approval of the work led to a full-illustrated edition of the poem in 1861. Her accuracy of design brought her to the attention of the artist, Celticist and later National Gallery director Frederic William Burton. Stokes edited her first book of Irish iconography in 1871. When Quin died before the completion of his book Notes on Irish Architecture, Stokes, using his bequest for the purpose, edited and illustrated the book posthumously between 1875 and 1877. Her Early Christian Architecture in Ireland appeared in 1878 and Notes on the Cross of Cong in 1895 as well as her second book on Irish iconography. Two books of the travels of early Irish missionaries to Italy and France were also illustrated and published by her. In later years with the development of photography, Stokes photographed and transcribed inscriptions and rubbings of the stone monuments. Her last book, The High Crosses of Castledermot and Durrow. 1898, made pioneer use of this documentation but her intended book, The High Crosses of Ireland, remained incomplete at her death. In the course of her career, Stokes was elected an honorary fellow of the Royal Irish Academy, the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, and the Antiquarian Society of Scotland. She died at home in 1900. Her papers are housed at Trinity College Dublin Stokes formed part of the revival interest in Gaelic, Irish antiquities and early Irish history (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography). Her illustrations, but not her text, found favor with Oscar Wilde. Self educated, her books remained scholarly for their extensive inclusion of primary source material. Her work was eventually superseded by the Irish-French scholar Françoise Henry.
20 September 1900
edited and revised, Didron, Adolphe Napoléon. Christian Iconography or, The History of Christian Art in the Middle Ages. 2 vols. London: H. G. Bohn, 1851-1886; edited, Petrie, George. Christian Inscriptions in the Irish Language. 2 vols. Dublin: Dublin University Press/Royal Historical and Archaeological Association of Ireland, 1872-1878; Early Christian Architecture in Ireland. London: G. Bell and Sons, 1878; Early Christian Art in Ireland. London: Committee of Council on Education/Chapman and Hall, 1887; The High Crosses of Castledermot and Durrow. Dublin: The Academy, 1898.
Wilde, Oscar. [review of Early Christian Art]. Pall Mall Gazette December 17, 1887, preprinted, Wilde About Wilde Newsletter no.17 (October 16 1994):15-16;Sheehy, Jeanne. The Rediscovery of Ireland's Past: the Celtic Revival, 1830-1930. London: Thames and Hudson, 1980; Falkiner, C. Litton. and Legg, Marie-Louise (rev.). "Stokes, Margaret M'Nair." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography; [obituaries:] Daily Express [Dublin] September 22, 1900; Times (London) September 24, 1900; The Athenaeum September 29, 1900, pp. 417-18.