In a room full of male barristers Deverell must have stood out in sharp contrast, particularly in an environment reeking (at least then) of history, privilege, class and clubbiness, redolent with unwritten rules and long established patterns of acceptable behaviour. This must have seemed a formidable challenge with no other woman in sight for another seven months: she would have been all too aware of the need to negotiate her space in the minefields of a small, close knit, Bar … A sharp intellect, a ready wit and a fair degree of smart anticipation were required, together with an ability to keep her views to herself when necessary. A capacity for hard work and a careful attention to detail must also have stood her in good stead in the organised scrum of the Law Library
Averil Deverell (1893-1979) was the first woman barrister to practise in Ireland, England, Scotland or Wales.
She was not the first woman to be called to the Bar. That, as is widely reported, was Frances Kyle. However, she was the second woman to be called – alongside her twin brother – and 17 other men in 1921. Rather, she was the first to negotiate the unique challenges of practice as the sole woman barrister for several months after her call. Her status as the first to practise places her in a special position with regard to her contemporaries. Deverell and Kyle were preceded only by the Scottish solicitor Madge Easton Anderson in 1920. In England, the first women were called – Ivy William and Carrie Morrison – in May and November 1922.
Sustaining a long career at the Bar for nearly 40 years, she has several other milestones to her credit: first to read for the Irish Bar and first law reporter, first to get a coveted ‘red bag’ as a junior, first ‘Mother of the Bar’ (in recognition of her seniority after a lengthy practice) and first secretary of the Dublin University Women Graduates Association (‘DUGWA’).
The full version of this landmark is written by Liz Goldthorpe.
Colum Kenny, ‘Trove belonging to Averil Deverell, Ireland’s first female barrister, is saved’ (29 Jan 2018)