There are, of course, many inventive, innovative and highly intriguing women in this fine ol’ town of ours, and some of them even pre-date the towering Bridie Mooney.
Just to remind us all of this fact, three of the town’s most famous daughters are about to be celebrated alongside some of their county sisters in a month-long Our Wicklow Women exhibition at Greystones Library.
When it comes to the Greystones icons being celebrated, we’ve charted the many incredible achievements of Elizabeth Hawkins-Whitshed before, and we’re about to dig deeper with Republican activist and author Máirín Cregan Ryan. Today, though, standing outside her old family home, Ellesmere, on Church Road, it’s all about Averil Katherine Statter Deverell.
We had heard many a kind and hushed word said about this remarkable woman over the years, but it wasn’t until Liz Goldthorpe’s insightful essay A Quiet Woman? in the latest journal from the Greystones Archaeological & Historical Society that we realised just how pioneering a life Ms Deverell led.
Born at 26 Leeson Street, Dublin in 1893, Averil and her twin brother, William, moved with parents William Sr and Ada Kate to Greystones in 1903, settling initially into Judge Brereton Barry’s ‘pretty house’, Inniskeen, on Killincarrick Road. Seven years – and a short detour to Bray – later, the Deverells had bought Ellesmere, 1910 also being the year that Averil and William entered Trinity College Dublin, to study law, the latter bailing to join the army in 1914, as World War 1 broke out. Averil graduated in 1915, despite also joining the war effort, including becoming an ambulance driver in France. Having been taught how to drive by her father, one of the first people in Greystones to own a car.
When the war finally ended in 1918, and upon her father’s encouragement, Averil began to train as a barrister, and on November 1st, 1921, at King’s Inn, she and Frances Kyle, a Belfast woman, were the first two women ever to be called to the bar in Ireland. Frances would return to Belfast, but soon changed career, whilst Averil became one of Ireland’s most celebrated, and inspirational, barristers. Today, there’s a lectureship in Averil’s name available for young law students.
And with sweet synchronicity, in 1922, Averil’s favourite uncle, George Wallace, would see his daughter, Naomi Constance, become one of the first women called to the English bar.
There was much more to Averil Deverell than just breaking the law ceiling, of course, including early campaigning work alongside her mother for the suffrage movement, her love of theatre (becoming a leading member of the University Players at TCD), and a passion for breeding cairn terriers. As any self-respecting barrister always does.
The great Liz Goldthorpe [left, with Pat Vance, John Murray and George Jones] will be launching August’sOur Wicklow Women at Greystones Library on Thursday, August 1st, at 7pm, with a talk on Averil Deverell. A free event, this is one you’ll definitely have to book a seat for – details below. And you’ll find out much more about this truly iconic Greystones woman than we could ever muster.
Four years after Averil departed the family home in 1975, moving to Applewood Heights with the family’s longtime housekeeper, Mrs Bourke, as her nurse, she would pass away, aged 86, and is buried in The Grove cemetery alongside her brother. As luck would have it, Ellesmere’s new resident, Ossie Spurling, stumbled across boxes upon boxes of Averil’s personal notes, papers, photographs and documents, and recognised immediately their importance. Which is why they’re currently sitting pretty in the archives of The Honorable Society of Kings Inns, the institution that controls the entry of barristers-at-law in Ireland.
In the meantime, we had one of our ramble chats with the great Rosemary Raughter about this woman who very much raised the bar for womankind…
You can find out more about Our Wicklow Women at Greystones Library – including Judge Liz Goldthorpe’s talk on Averil Deverell on August 1st – right here. You can also explore other Greystones Archaeological & Historical Society events here. The bulk of archive photos here courtesy of The Honorable Society of King’s Inn, from the Averil Deverell Spurling archive. None of these images are for public use without first seeking clarification/permission from the Librarian at Kings Inns – Renate.NiUigin@kingsinns.ie. Pencil sketch is by Irish artist Seán O’Sullivan.