100 Years Ago: First Women Called to the Irish Bar

100 years ago in Ireland, for the first time ever, women were called to the Bar…

In November 1921 Averil Deverell and Frances Kyle were the first women to ever be called to the Irish Bar. This momentous event for working women all over Ireland not only made headlines in Dublin, but also in New York, London, and India. It was almost a year before any woman was called to the English bar (Ivy Williams, 10 May 1922).

Of course, at the time, the nation’s attention was directed toward the political turmoil of the War of Independence. In just one month’s time would the Anglo-Irish Treaty be signed by representatives of the British government (which included Prime Minister David Lloyd George, who was head of the British delegates) and by representatives of the Irish Republic including Michael Collins and Arthur Griffith.

However, as these events captured the attention of Irish society a victory of a different kind was achieved. Frances Kyle became the first Irish woman to be called to the Bar on 1st November 1921 and Averil Deverell, who was called to the Bar later that same day, was the second woman called to the Bar and the first woman to practise at the Bar in Ireland.

Averil Deverell

On her first day of practice Averil Deverell arrived at the Law Library wearing the regulation wig and gown. Though in London the legal establishment referred to her wearing court dress as having “donned the horsehair with ludicrous effect” the editor of the Irish Law Times defended the circumstance by declaring “The effect is certainly far from ludicrous. It is regarded as very becoming to the lady wearer.” Thus began the slow progression of women making their mark on the legal profession in Ireland.

As she was called to the bar in November 1921, which pre-dated the Anglo-Irish treaty, and her first case being in January 1922 before the treaty was implemented, she was officially the first woman to act as a barrister in the United Kingdom. In January 1922, Deverell joined the Law Library of the Four Courts, where she was the only woman until the arrival of Mary Dillon-Leetch in June 1923. Unfortunately, the Library was heavily damaged during the Irish Civil War and was relocated to Dublin Castle until 1931. As a financial supplement to her work, she bought a cairn terrier with her first fee, and went on to set up a kennels, becoming a breeder of the dogs.

Frances Kyle

Frances came first in the Bar Entrance Examinations and in October 1921, she became the first woman to win the John Brooke Scholarship. She practiced as a probationer and received her first brief on 23 November 1922. On 14 November 1922, Frances was elected a member of the circuit of Northern Ireland at a meeting in Belfast, becoming the first female member of a circuit. Frances is reported in the Dublin Evening Telegraph in 1922 as having received eight briefs.


A survey conducted in 2012 predicted that in a decade’s time, the number of women barristers would overtake the number of men in the profession in Ireland. At the time, of the country’s 2,269 practising barristers, 43% were women (Gallagher, Irish Times, 2013). As of June 2019, women barristers makeup 38% of the Law Library members and 17% of senior counsel are women.

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‘Why are so few women becoming senior counsel?’ Conor Gallagher, Irish Times, Dec 9 2013, accessed here.

Women and the Law: 100 Years of Progress Since the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919, Oireachtas Library and Research Service. accessed here.


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