Notes people

Praeger in Holywood

Sophia Rosamond Praeger 1867-1954

Rosamond Praeger was the only daughter among the six children of linen merchant William Praeger and his wife Maria (née Patterson). Rosamond was born on 15 April 1867, shortly before the family moved to Woodburn House on Croft Road, Holywood.

Her formal education began at the school under Holywood’s Non-Subscribing Presbyterian church, before she moved to Sullivan Upper School in 1879. At just 15, she enrolled for classes at the School of Art in Belfast. Two years later she moved to the Slade School Of Art in London, where she studied under Alphonse Legros who influenced her development as an artist and sculptress.

After winning prizes for drawing and modelling in clay, she spent a brief spell in Paris before returning to her beloved Holywood.

Her initial output was mostly illustrations of others’ books, and then her own illustrated children’s books. She also wrote poetry and had an interest in Celtic folklore. She became a very committed member of the Belfast Naturalists’ Field Club.

But it was not long before she turned her hand to sculpture professionally, initially with a studio in Belfast. (She had first become interested in working in stone through her friendship with Holywood stonemason, John Lowry.) The commercial success of her sculpture The Philosopher enabled her in 1914 to build a studio in Hibernia Street in Holywood (which she shared with fellow sculptor Morris Harding).

Rosamond is probably best known for the bronze sculpture of Johnny the Jig; the original is on display in North Down Museum. While a number of Holywood boys lay claim to be the model, the work commemorates Fergus Morton, a young Boy Scout, tragically killed at Easter 1952 while on his bob-a-job service in the community.

Other works included church memorials, plaster casts and bronzes, one of which – the Waif- can be seen in Holywood Library, where there is also a cabinet displaying several other smaller works. She produced a wide range of plaques, figures and busts; many were exhibited in Belfast or Dublin. She also left many sketches, and painted landscapes in watercolours.

She and her mother had moved to Derryquin (built in the Arts and Crafts style) On the Old Cultra Road in 1891.

In 1902, Rosamond was elected a vice-president of the Ulster Academy of Arts. In 1939. she was awarded the MBE, a year after Queen’s University gave her an honorary degree. She died on 16 April 1954, at Rock Cottage, Cultra.

She is commemorated on the headstone in the old Priory graveyard, which she designed for her father, and through her bequest of the land known as Praeger’s Field as a recreation area – situated along the shore path leading from the town towards Seapark.

Over one hundred of her works were brought together for an exhibition in Holywood’s Queen’s Hall in 1975. In 2006 Con Auld produced an excellent book entitled Rosamond Praeger, The Way that I Went; Dr Joseph McBrinn has also written Sophia Rosamond Praeger 1867-1954, Art, Literature, Science, (2014), reflecting her wide-ranging talents.

The Little Waif

For a comprehensive lists of where to see her work today in Holywood and beyond, please go to: Rosamond Praeger works and Legacy

Robert Lloyd Praeger
1865 – 1953

Rosamond’s brother Robert Lloyd Praeger was a professional naturalist who moved to Dublin, where he worked in the National Library. His best known work is The Way I Went (1937). He was also the inaugural President of An Taisce (The National Trust for Ireland) and served as President of the Royal Irish Academy.