CHICAGO (AP) _ A young Irishwoman, critically injured in a St. Patrick's Day traffic accident while on a visit to her jailed boyfriend, emerged from a coma after prayers for her recovery, says a family spokesman.

Margaret Hanley ''was conscious and a smile came to her face,'' said Gerry Archbold, director of the Irish-American Heritage Center here.

The 22-year-old Dublin woman's condition was upgraded from critical to fair. ''There's hope she will recover fully, but it's too early to say,'' Dorothy DeWitt, nursing supervisor at Weiss Memorial Hospital, said Wednesday.

Miss Hanley, who was hit by a car March 17, was in a coma for 10 days. Her parents, Stephen and Ann Hanley, visited her bedside daily, praying and hoping.

Archbold attributed Miss Hanley's improvement to prayer.

''We prayed hard for her,'' he said. ''There were special prayers during the Palm Sunday Mass at the center. Just shortly after the Mass was over, she started to regain consciousness.

''She recognized voices, but she has a long way to go,'' Archbold said.

Her recovery will take a long time, said Nancy Durbin, another nursing supervisor.

''The fact that she has been up and talking is a very, very good sign,'' said Miss DeWitt.

A ventilator that helped Miss Hanley breathe has been removed, but she is still being fed intravenously, Mrs. Durbin said.

She said Miss Hanley tries to talk, and mouths words. Mrs. Durbin said she does not know if the young woman has mentioned Daniel Stokes, a 21-year-old native of Ireland whom she met last year when he was there for a visit.

Stokes, who returned to Chicago last November, says the two fell in love. He is in the Cook County Jail on a charge of bludgeoning his landlord to death. If convicted, he could receive the death penalty.

In addition to first-degree murder, he is charged with residential burglary, armed robbery, home invasion and possession of a stolen motor vehicle.

Miss Hanley followed Stokes to Chicago last month. The accident occurred the day before she planned to return to Ireland.