Time to celebrate Wicklow’s Wonder Women

As part of the Decade of Centenaries, a programme of events called ‘Wicklow’s Wonder Women’ is being held to celebrate the centenaries of two local trailblazers.

icklow County Council’s Arts and Heritage Offices and the Archives Service have joined forces with Herstory and curator Liz Kelly to produce the events.

Averil Deverell (1893 – 1979) was the first Irish woman barrister called to the Bar in 1921 and Kate Tyrell (1863 – 1921) was the first woman ship’s sea captain in Ireland.

At the time, only men were allowed to be employed in these roles. Both women smashed the glass ceiling to rewrite the gender rulebooks for their professions, leading the way for future generations of female lawyers and seafarers.

It was forbidden for women to captain a ship but that didn’t stop Kate from registering her captaincy in the name of a man in order to sail.

Tyrrell spent most of her time captaining the Denbighshire Lass from her base in Arklow, becoming adept at navigation and passionate about all aspects of sailing. She had a reputation for being a stern enforcer of order on board her ship, intolerant of any drunken crew members on duty.

The Denbighshire Lass continued to sail throughout World War I, navigating landmines in the Irish Sea without incident, despite having no insurance. Kate’s was the first ship to fly the new Irish tricolour flag at a foreign port.

Averil Deverell was involved in Irish Law at the foundation of the judiciary and court structures in Ireland. Graduating with a law degree from Trinity College Dublin in 1915, in the middle of World War I, she served as a VAD Nursing Sister at Trinity and in her home town of Greystones.

Eventually, after clocking hundreds of hours of service in Ireland, she persuaded the authorities to allow her into France as an ambulance driver. In 1918,

Averil served in France and Flanders with the French Red Cross, returning home to a community devastated by loss. Well aware that the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 was heading for the statute book, she opted to train as a barrister and entered the King’s Inns, Dublin in January 1919. In November 1921, Averil was duly called to the Bar in Dublin with Frances Christian Kyle from Belfast, the first two women to be admitted. Frances returned to Belfast, Ireland was partitioned and Averil entered the closed, male, confines of the Law Library at the Four Courts in January 1922, becoming the first practicing woman barrister in Ireland.

The Wicklow’s Wonder Women programme features a spectacular light show, historical talk, experiential Brehon Law Court workshop and fascinating salon event. All events are open to the public and booking is essential, with the exception of the light show which is free.

“Wicklow County Council Arts and Heritage Offices and Archive Service have commissioned these projects to mark women’s history and outstanding achievements as part of our ongoing Decade of Centenaries Programme in 2021. Supported by the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media under the Decade of Centenaries 2012-2023 initiative, two trailblazing Wicklow Women take centre stage and we are delighted to work with Liz Kelly curator, and Herstory to commemorate and celebrate Averil Deverell and Kate Tyrell in their home county,” said Jenny Sherwin, Arts Officer and Deirdre Burns, Heritage Officer Wicklow County Council, in a joint statement.

On Friday, November 5, at 5 p.m., a spectacular light show will see the Cove in Greystones illuminated with newly commissioned portraits of the local legends by artist Lauren O’ Neill. The heroines will be in lights again at 8.30 p.m. in Arklow Harbour, where Kate Tyrell navigated her ship ‘The Denbeighshire Lass’ across the Irish Sea.

Throughout the weekend, portraits of both Averil Deverell and Kate Tyrell will be on billboards in Arklow and Greystones.

“Women’s achievements and struggles have been lost in the shadows for too long, resulting in global inequality and a regression of women’s rights. That’s why Herstory is harnessing the alchemical power of light, to celebrate women and equality, spotlight inequality, and create visions for a World of Equals,” said Melanie Lynch, Founder of Herstory

Mná 100 with Dr Sinead McCoole and John Mahon, grandson of Kate Tyrell will take place at Arklow Library on Saturday, November 6, at 11.30 a.m.

Dr McCoole will talk about her research work on the Mná 100 project. She will welcome guest John Mahon, grandson of Kate Tyrell, who will be in conversation with Sinead about his grandmother, her life and her work.

A Brehon Law court workshop will take place upstairs in Greystones Library on Saturday, November 6, from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Master storytellers from CandleLit Tales will host the event.

The workshop will explore contemporary society’s approach to wrongdoing, lawbreaking, and harm to individuals and community. For centuries, Ireland operated without prisons or police, tackling legal issues through the Brehon law – a complex and fascinating legal code that focused on restorative rather than punitive justice. In this workshop, participants will test out the Brehon law by holding their own trial.

They will experience the similarities and differences of this approach to our modern legal system, and will have a chance to explore a completely different approach to crime and punishment. They will be guided through some of the principles and processes of Brehon Law and will explore concepts of fair play, justice, and legality through a mock-trial. Participants will experience the concept of restorative justice in the context of a real legal code that held sway on this island for thousands of years.

At Whale Theatre in Greystones on Saturday, November at 8 p.m. , it’s ‘The Breaking Ground Salon.

This collaboration with Herstory will interweave lively conversation with performances by visionary local poets and musicians. Poets Jane Clarke and Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill will read new poems inspired by the Wicklow trailblazers, alongside cellist Lioba Petrie and soprano Catherine Redding.

Hosted by journalist and broadcaster Dearbhail McDonald; speakers include historian and retired judge Liz Goldthorpe; Chair of the Bar Council Maura McNally; and lawyer and chair of AkiDwA Ashimedua Okonkwo.

Together they will discuss Averil Deverell’s contribution to the law and share stories from their own career history. Also in conversation about women and our connection to the sea will be renowned Irish surfer, marine social scientist, and artist Dr Easkey Britton and Dr Karen Weekes who is training to become the first Irish woman to row solo across the Atlantic.


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