Rowan, Anne Margaret (1832–1913), novelist, historian, and political activist, was born 21 November 1832 in Tralee, Co. Kerry, to Arthur Blennerhasset Rowan (qv), Church of Ireland clergyman and antiquarian, and his wife Alice (née Thompson). The Rowan family, originally of Scots extraction, traced its roots in Kerry back to the early eighteenth century. As a result of judicious marriages with members of the Kerry gentry, the Rowans rose to a degree of prominence among the protestant grandees of the county. Anne (informally ‘Annie’) Rowan's maternal grandfather, Peter Thompson, a native of Co. Meath, met Anne Blennerhasset of Co. Kerry while employed as a treasury clerk in Dublin in 1798. After their marriage, the couple settled in Tralee in 1800, where Thompson assumed the position of county treasurer. Peter Thompson (d. 1849) was a noted entrepreneur. His residence in Strand St., Tralee, faced that of William Rowan, landowner and barrister. Anne's parents, Arthur Rowan and Alice Thompson, both born in 1800, grew up together and married in 1825. Their union resulted in three surviving children, William, Anne, and Ora.
Unlike her relatively undistinguished brother William (1830–1919), barrister and magistrate for Co. Kerry, it is ironic that little seems to have been recorded of Anne's education or early adult years. It may be assumed that she was educated privately at her father's house, Belmont, in Tralee. Here also she would have had access to Rowan's large collection of books on subjects as diverse as history, divinity, literature, archaeology, and philosophy. Evidently, Anne inherited from her father a deep interest in Irish history and archaeology. She undertook research for the Kerry historian Mary Agnes Hickson (qv) in the PRO, the British Museum, and Lambeth Palace Library, London, and in the Bodleian Library, Oxford, on material for inclusion in Hickson's Ireland in the seventeenth century (1884). She also assisted A. B. Grosart in his preparation of the seventeenth-century estate papers of the earls of Cork for publication (The Lismore papers (1886)). This research may have laid the basis for Rowan's intensely politicised interest in Irish history and in the history of the protestant settler families of Kerry. She published widely, both fiction and history, under her own name and using the pseudonym ‘Amos Reade’. Her fiction is stylised in the Victorian manner and didactic in character.
For twenty-five years honorary secretary of the Kerry branch of the Irish Unionist Alliance, Anne Rowan campaigned tirelessly, particularly in the 1890s, against home rule in Ireland. Through her membership of the Primrose League, a conservative unionist political association, she toured extensively in Britain and Ireland in the early 1890s, speaking on Ireland in her capacity as secretary of Tralee's St Brendan's Habitation of the League. In such addresses, she would warn her English audiences of the dangers of Ireland being used as a backdoor for the invasion of Great Britain, stoutly defending Ireland's place within the union, and warning of anarchy should the Irish be granted political autonomy (‘Speech by Irish lady unionist’, Manchester Examiner, 7 July 1890, 5). Addressing the Glanmire branch of the League in Cork in 1890, she adopted a somewhat more nuanced approach in the company of her compatriots. On this occasion, she reminded her listeners that the British empire was not simply the creation of the English: the Irish, Scots, and Welsh had also built up the empire, and if the Irish were to be separated from the empire as a result of home rule ‘Ireland would be a decayed limb cut off from the body and would wither and die’ (Cork Constitution, 2 Aug. 1890, 8). In an address to the Mallow branch of the League in the same year, she argued that Ireland before the union was ‘devoid of greatness, being a mere record of internal warfare and bloody invasions of foreigners’ (Cork Constitution, 21 Aug. 1890, 5).
Annie Rowan was a well known character in late Victorian Kerry. Bertha Beatty, in her memoir of a Kerry childhood, describes encountering Annie Rowan at a Primrose League event at Lord Listowel's residence in Gurtinard: ‘I can clearly see her fine face and white hair, brushed back from the forehead. She was a forceful speaker.’ Beatty relates a possibly apocryphal though no doubt emblematic story of Rowan's encounter with a stray soldier while walking home late one night in Tralee. On his asking her for a kiss, Rowan replied: ‘My good man, if you will walk with me to the nearest lamp, and then after seeing me still wish to kiss me, you may!’ (Beatty, 35).
Rowan's publications include Percy Smythe: a tale of duty (1878); Rendelsholme: a novel (1880); History of Ireland, as disclosed by Irish statutes passed by Irish parliaments between 1310 and 1800 (1893); and (as ‘Amos Reade’) Norah Moriarty, or, Revelations of modern Irish life (1886) and Life in the cut. [A novel.] (1888). She frequently published material on Kerry history in the Kerry Evening Post. Her miscellaneous history of the diocese of Ardfert and Aghadoe, published by instalment in the Kerry Evening Post during 1898, contains a wealth of historical detail. Other articles published by Rowan include ‘John O'Connell's history of Ireland’, Kerry Evening Post (6 May, 13 May, 1911) and ‘Forgotten dead’, Kerry Archaeological Magazine, i (1908–12), 106–12.
Rowan joined the Society of Women Journalists soon after its formation in 1894 and she maintained an active interest in politics throughout the last decade of the nineteenth century. In addition to organising a controversial series of lectures on labour and capital in 1892 to heighten the political awareness of Tralee's labourers, she secured election to the board of poor law guardians for the Tralee union in 1897. However, she failed to secure election to the office of district councillor for the urban district of Tralee in 1899. In the course of her tenure as a poor law guardian, she was credited with significant advances in the quality of medical care available to working-class women in the town. During the Boer war, she was a dedicated fundraiser in her capacity as secretary of the Kerry branch of the Soldiers and Sailors Families’ Association. Dismayed by the ascendant Roman catholic nationalism of the period and the dismantlement of the Kerry protestant landed interest through successive land acts, Rowan died unmarried 13 December 1913. She resided at 7 Prince's Quay, Tralee, for much of her adult life.