Ruth Stoker, a cousin of the author of Dracula, Bram Stoker, was one of the first 30 students to attend Kylemore Abbey School when the school opened its’ doors in September 1923. Ranging in age from 8-18, the girls attended a “high class school offering all the advantages of a Continental education.”
Tragedy was to strike in the first term at Kylemore, when Ruth, 14, died a week short of Christmas Day. She was buried in the Community’s cemetery near the Gothic Church. Ruth remains the only lay person to be buried there to this day.
Some 60 years later, and a new student at Kylemore myself in September 1983, I was always curious as to who this girl was that was buried with the stone Celtic cross, but didn’t start research in earnest until into my adulthood.
My initial queries were with the Community’s historian, Sister Benedict, who explained that a fire in the castle in the 50’s destroyed any official past student’s records, so little was known about Ruth. All the same, Sister Benedict, asked some of the older retired nuns, and was told that her story was passed down as she having died from “Galloping Consumption” (TB) and was buried “at the request of her parents” at Kylemore.
I found this fascinating, and very sad.
To think the girl might have fallen ill while at school, and then to be buried, not quite alone, but the only child. among nuns.
Who was she?
Who were her family?
What was Ruth’s story?
And so I took to officially researching Ruth. Using her date and age off the grave stone, 18th December 1923, aged 14, and using her unusual name, Stoker and stabbing a guess of a Dublin connection, I started my search with the Dublin 1911 Census. Call it luck or fate but, I found her.
Having the family census details allowed me to research some more, and with the help of some in the know, over time I have found out the following:
Ruth’s father, Frank Owen Stoker, was a Protestant dental surgeon in Dublin and twice winner of Wimbledon’s Doubles with Joshua Pims. (1890 and again in 1893)
The family lived in number 23, Westland Row at the back of Trinity College, Dublin, at the time of her death – with a week to go to Christmas, they were probably looking forward to having their youngest daughter home for the holidays – I imagine a tall Christmas tree and long garlands adorned the fireplace and stairwell.
Ruth’s mother, was Rita Maunsell, a Roman Catholic, and Ruth had 3 sisters, May, Norma and Joan. They lived in the heart of the Dublin city. 1923 would have been a time of strife in Dublin with the end of the civil war and the city disrupted with riots and murders between Catholics and Protestants alike. I am guessing, and suppose the timing of her attending Kylemore was much thought through by her parents at the time.
Ruth’s immediate family line died out (Ruth’s sisters never married/had children) – and I was quietly pleased that more research found that while the original Stoker family plot is in Saint Patricks Cathedral, the Stoker/Maunsell plot is in Glasnevin.
I have visited the Glasnevin plot and can tell it has been some time since there has had any visitors. It is a quiet spot away from the celebrity and national heroes graves within the city graveyard. I can’t help but think how sad that the rest of her family are there all together, and Ruth so many miles away. I took a stone from there and placed it on Ruth’s grave in Kylemore. Silly perhaps, but I felt something was now being shared between the two locations.
I have yet to discover living relatives – and so my search continues…… I will continue to update this page as I find out more.
In the mean time, if you can be of any help with that please feel free to contact me. I would greatly appreciate any help.
My goal is not just to trace her living relatives, but ideally find a photo of Ruth – put a face to her gentle name. My original book cover of K-Girls depicts a relative of mine – it is taken of my mother’s cousin, around the same age and time of Ruth’s death. She represents the fictional face of Ruth – someday I hope to see the real one.