Ms. Helen Roe

Ms. Helen Roe (1895 1988) was born one week before Christmas Day, 1895 in Mountrath, where five years later she went to the national primary school. When it was time, she then enrolled in the Preston School in Abbeyleix and later entered Trinity College, Dublin. In 1914, rather than settle down to an early academic career, she felt it her duty to help in the war effort and joined the St. John's Ambulance Brigade. Helen Roe then served both at the Cambridge Military Hospital and at Aldershot Barracks. When peace time finally came she returned to Ireland and continued for a short time her career at the Military Hospital which was located in Bray, Co. Wicklow.

However, around 1920, she successfully applied to re-enter Trinity to complete her degree in modern languages. Having obtained her M.A. she began a teaching career, firstly at The Royal School, Dungannon, and later at Dublin's Alexandra College for girls. Helen had two great passions; the first being books and the second the study of the history of early Christian Ireland. Her interest in the world of books brought her into contact with the Carnegie Library and she became one of the principal advocates of this venture throughout Ireland. Her next move was in around 1929 when Laois first created the post of County Librarian. Helen also began to collect antiquarian items from around the county. These she managed to have on display in part of the library room and soon she had the nucleus of a County Museum. By around 1935 she felt confident to begin a series of lectures on the antiquities of Laois. These talks were accompanied by a magic lantern slide show of many of the old sites and artefacts from the locality, some of which dated back more than two thousand years. By 1950 she had become one of the chief authorities in the country on her favourite subject and was a personal friend of Dr. Raftery of the National Museum.

She became a leading member of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, and, in 1965, had the unique honour of being the first woman elected President of the Society. Further honours were to come her way when, in 1984, she was also elected as a member of the Royal Irish Academy. Today, an extensive collection of her personal notes on the antiquaries of County Laois are available for research in the present headquarters of Laois County Library Service. There was also a very charitable side to her life as for much of her time while in Portlaoise she was also Hon. Secretary and local organiser of The Queen's County Protestant Orphan's Society and later was actively involved in The Dublin University Mission to Chota Nagpur, India.


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