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30 November 2023

Portrait of first woman solicitor in Ireland unveiled.

The Law Society of Northern Ireland has this week unveiled a unique portrait of a young woman at Law Society House in Belfast city centre.

The black and white portrait is like many you will find in museums and galleries around the world but this one is uniquely different and somewhat inspiring.

The portrait depicts Dorothea Heron a young woman who would go on to make legal history by becoming the first woman Solicitor on the Roll on the island of Ireland.

Born in Harcourt Street in Dublin on the 19th of August 1896, Deasie as she was known to her family was educated at Victoria College, Belfast and later at Queens University Belfast where she read classics, graduating in 1918.

She went on to study Law again at Queens University graduating with a first-class degree in 1921.

Following the tumultuous struggle of the WW1 and the political emancipation of women in 1918 the professions were for the first time opened to women.

The Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 allowed Dorothea Heron to be the first woman in Ireland to be apprenticed to a Solicitor’s firm of T M Heron in Belfast.

On the 17th April 1923, she was registered as a Solicitor in the Roll of Solicitors by the Law Society of Ireland in Dublin and during her apprenticeship Ireland witnessed the War of Independence, partition and civil war.

It was decided by the Law Society’s north and south that the apprentices could register on the Rolls of both now separate jurisdictions.

Dorothea 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.

Commenting on the unveiling of the new portrait the President of the Law Society of Northern Ireland, Darren 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%) 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”.  

The new portrait was unveiled at a ceremony at Law Society House in Belfast on Wednesday 29th November 2023 by past President, Margaret Elliott and new President, Darren Toombs.



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