Stokes, Margaret McNair (1832–1900), archaeologist and antiquary, was born in March 1832 at York St., Dublin, eldest daughter of William Stokes (qv), MD, and Mary Stokes (neé Black) of Glasgow. The surgeon Sir William Stokes (qv) and the celticist Whitley Stokes (qv) were her brothers. She was educated by governesses and by interaction with the distinguished acquaintances and family connections she met in her father's house. Among her father's antiquarian friends were Edwin Quin (qv), 3rd earl of Dunraven, Sir Samuel Ferguson (qv), George Petrie (qv), William Reeves (qv), and J. H. Todd (qv). She studied antiquities in the west of Ireland and the Aran Islands in the company of her father, Petrie, and Dunraven. They encouraged in her an interest in Irish antiquities and an early talent for draughtsmanship, a skill she demonstrated in many illustrations; she illuminated initial letters for Ferguson's poem The cromlech at Howth (1861). She contributed to Todd's ‘Descriptive remarks on illuminations in certain ancient Irish manuscripts’ (Vetusta Monumenta, vi (1868)) three drawings, one from the Book of Kells and two from the Garland of Howth. She assisted the editing of Petrie's Christian inscriptions in the Irish language (1870) and was responsible for editing, publishing, and illustrating Dunraven's Notes on Irish architecture (1878), which she brought out after the author's death. A paper entitled ‘Shrine of St Moedog and the gospel of St Molaise’, with several fine examples of her draughtsmanship, was published in Archaeologia, xliii (1871), the journal of the Society of Antiquaries, London. In the same year her ‘Irish art in Bavaria’ appeared in the RSAI Jn. She was chosen an honorary MRIA in 1876 (women were not elected to membership until the next century), and was also elected MRSAI, a member of the Co. Kildare Archaeological Society, and an associate of the Scottish Society of Antiquaries.
Family responsibilities meant she was not really free to undertake scholarly work and travel until her father died (1878), but thereafter she dedicated herself to the full-time study of ancient Irish art and monuments and published the reference works Early Christian architecture in Ireland (1878) and Early Christian art in Ireland (1887), the latter containing 106 woodcuts of her drawings. Throughout the 1880s and 1890s she published many papers on Irish antiquities such as the Tara brooch, the cross of Cong, the Ardagh chalice, crosiers, and ancient funeral customs. She translated one volume of Adolphe Didron's Christian iconography (2 vols, 1891), edited the whole, and contributed appendices and illustrations. Her constant enthusiasm for study and travel, even late in life, is evident in her Six months on the Appenines (1892), recording a pilgrimage in search of vestiges of Irish saints in Italy; this was followed three years later by Three months in the forests of France on a similar subject. Like all her works, these volumes contain many finely crafted illustrations, as does her Notes on the cross of Cong (224 copies, privately printed, 1895). Her lifelong interest was Irish high crosses, and she planned a comprehensive descriptive illustrated catalogue for the RIA. She delivered a series of four lectures, first to the RIA (12 April 1897), then to the Society of Antiquaries, London (9 June 1898), and the National Literary Society, Dublin (14 January 1899). Although part of her work was published by the RIA as High crosses of Castledermot and Durrow (1898), the descriptive cataloguing remained unfinished at her death. On the occasion of the first visit to Dublin by the Royal Archaeological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, she was asked to present a paper, ‘Signs of the zodiac on Muiredach's cross, Monasterboice’, at Academy House on 23 July 1900.
She was the most important Irish woman antiquarian of her day, and her writings, illustrations, and editing were admired by contemporaries throughout Europe. She received a civil list pension of £100 a year in 1893. Her circle included T. J. Westropp (qv), and she wrote a memorial (Blackwoods Magazine) of her great friend Sir Samuel Ferguson on his death in 1886. She died 20 September 1900 at her residence, Carrig Breac, Howth, Co. Dublin, and was buried in the cemetery of St Fintan's church. She was unmarried. Her friend Lord Walter Fitzgerald (qv) compiled a bibliography of her works, and Robert Macalister (qv) gave a series of Margaret Stokes memorial lectures in Alexandra College in 1913. Stokes had been a Visitor in Alexandra College, and the memorial foundation organised several lectures there in her memory.