Female Lawyers in Ireland

Published 2nd June 2015

A guest post written by Matthew Holmes.

The call to the Irish bar on the 1st of November 1921 was a historic one. It was the first call to the bar since the Irish Judiciary had been divided following our independence from England, it was also the first call to the bar anywhere in the world where women were admitted. It seems that Ireland was eager to call female barristers at the first opportunity it got. Miss Frances Kyle was the first female barrister in history having come first in the Bar Entrance Examinations- she was also the first woman to win the prestigious Brooke Scholarship. Miss Averill Deverell was also called on the same day and became the first woman to practise at the bar in Ireland or anywhere else in the world. Her portrait currently hangs over the entrance to Averill Deverell Room in the Law Library in Dublin, the nerve centre for Irish Barristers, beneath it a small plaque proudly notes that she was called prior to the admission of any lady to the English Bar. This made headlines in Dublin and also in New York, London and India. It was a year before any woman was called to the English bar; Ivy Williams was admitted on the 10th of May 1922. Trinity College Dublin holds a position of Averill Deverell Lecturer in Law in honour of Ireland’s first practising female barrister. One former holder of this position is Fidelma Macken, who was the first female judge of the European Court of Justice, as well as a Supreme Court Judge in Ireland.

The Past

It was another two years after that call before Ms Mary Dorothea Heron admitted to the roll of solicitors as the first female female solicitor in Ireland. In 1963 Ms Justice Eileen Kennedy became the first appointed female judge, it is said that her court rooms were filled with people coming to witness the novelty of a female judge. Ms Frances Moran, took silk in 1947 two years before any female QCs were appointed in England, however she never practised at the inner bar. Ms Justice Mella Carroll in 1977 was the first woman to practise at the inner bar and, in 1980, the first to become a judge of the High Court.

The Present

Ireland is now perhaps one of the best countries in the world to be a woman in law. Currently all of the top legal positions are occupied by women- Our Chief Justice Susan Denham was the first woman on the Supreme Court and one of the first female Chief Justices in the world. Our Attorney General Maire Whelan is the first woman to hold that position as is our Director of Public Prosecutions Claire Loftus. Our Minister for Justice, Frances Fitzgerald, is also female. Both of Ireland’s female presidents- Mary Robinson, and Mary McAleese, practised at the bar here. In a first for any legal profession in the world, female Irish solicitors now outnumber male solicitors. One article from the Irish Independent in 2012 predicted that within a decade there would also be more female barristers than male in Ireland.

The Future?

I will not suggest that everything is perfect, after all the Irish Constitution still states that the woman’s place is in the home. However for such a small nation Ireland has had a number of historic firsts and has blazed a trail for women in law. It’s worth remembering that even though she never took her seat in Westminster the first Female MP, Countess Markievicz, was Irish. Long may this trend continue.