New portrait memorialises first woman solicitor on island of Ireland

New portrait memorialises first woman solicitor on island of Ireland

Dorothea Heron

The Law Society of Northern Ireland has unveiled a portrait of Dorothea Heron, who made legal history as the first woman to qualify as a solicitor anywhere on the island of Ireland.

Born in Harcourt Street in Dublin on 19 August 1896, Deasie — as she was known to her family — was educated at Belfast’s Victoria College and later at Queen’s University Belfast, where she read classics and graduated in 1918. She later returned to QUB to study law, graduating with a first-class degree in 1921.

The Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 opened the professions to women and Ms Heron became the first woman in Ireland to be apprenticed to a solicitors’ firm, namely T M Heron in Belfast.

On 17 April 1923, she was registered as a solicitor in the roll of solicitors by the Law Society of Ireland in Dublin. Amid the partition of the island into two jurisdictions, the two Law Societies decided apprentices could register on the rolls of both.

Ms Heron continued to work in her uncle’s firm as a conveyancer, which did not require her to apply for annual practising certificates. She remained in the firm until her retirement in 1946.

Her last remaining years were spent living in Portstewart and sadly she passed away as the result of a stroke in 1960 at the age of 63.

The new portrait was unveiled yesterday at a ceremony at Law Society House in Belfast by past president Margaret Elliott and new president Darren Toombs.

Mr Toombs said: “The Society is delighted to unveil the portrait of Dorothea Heron, a truly inspirational woman and solicitor. Through her actions she empowered countless generations of women to pursue a career in the law.

“Her success inspired others including Thomasina McKinney, who became the first woman president of the Law Society Northern Ireland in 1978.

“Her legacy lives on and is evident in the majority of trainee solicitors at the Institute of Professional Legal Studies at Queens University Belfast are now women (70 per cent) and in 2023, women solicitors make up the majority of the profession under 35 years old.

“The firm of T M Heron Belfast still practices today as Diamond Heron, and they can be justly proud of Dorothea who like her contemporaries in the legal profession decided that women were entitled to a career in the law.”

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