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From little acorns...

From little acorns...
DSBA dinner 1937

86 years representing Dublin solicitors



The Dublin Solicitors’ Bar Association was founded in 1935. Kevin O’Higgins looks back at its 86 years of representing Dublin solicitors.

The DSBA is the largest bar association in the country, with a membership of over 3,000. Initially called the Dublin Circuit and District Court Bar Association, it changed its name in 1937 to reflect a broader reach.

The first president was Arthur Bradley, and the first secretary was Brendan T Walsh. While it may not have the antiquity of some other bar associations, it has a rich history, and has been to the fore of legal life in the capital since its inception.

From little acorns...
The old Bridewell District Court, where the DSBA was born

From little acorns...
All the DSBA female presidents: Helen Sheehy, Geraldine Clarke, Moya Quinlan, Orla Coyne, Elma Lynch and Thelma King

Why it took until the mid-’30s for colleagues to form an association was probably because of a perception that the ‘Dublin Law Society’ was already present in the Four Courts Solicitors’ Building.

While perhaps having some validity, the Law Society’s role and reach was different. The DSBA has always worked constructively and in support of the Law Society, while supporting its membership on the ground.

Born in a Dublin street

In fact, the catalyst for the formation of the DSBA arose from an altercation and subsequent brief imprisonment of a colleague appearing before a judge in the Bridewell. This caused consternation among the profession, which saw it as heavy-handed and unfair, leading to a suspension of practitioners attending the court.

The colleague, as a mark of appreciation to his colleagues for standing by him, presented a newly-commissioned chain of office to the newly-formed association – which has been worn with pride by each of its 84 presidents since.

The first annual dinner was held in 1937 under the presidency of John S O’Connor in the Dolphin Hotel. At the 1939 annual dinner, President of the Law Society Daniel J Reilly said that there was no better way of establishing closer links than through bar associations across the country. Over the decades, various topical issues exercised the DSBA, and it made numerous representations to Government.

During the early years, presidents included: Sean O’hUadhaigh (1936), John S O’Connor (1938), John Cusack (1939), JP Collins (1941), Charles McGonagle (1941), Brendan T Walsh (1948), PC Moore (1949), Desmond Moran (1950), and James J O’Connor (1951).

Rock around the clock

In 1954, the Solicitors Act brought major reform to the regulation of the profession. During the 1950s, the DSBA continued to meet and dine in the Solicitors’ Buildings in the Four Courts. The first female council member was Thelma King in 1965, who went on to become the first woman president of the DSBA in 1973 and, subsequently, a District Court judge.

A further move to include women at social events was suggested in 1978 by then president, John Buckley, who brought a motion to council that members be allowed to bring “lady guests” to the annual dinners. Moya Quinlan became president in 1979 – the following year becoming president of the Law Society.

Some of the many other prominent Dublin solicitors who acted as president during the 1950s to 1990s were two generations of the Pigot family (David R in 1955 and his son, also David R, 20 years later), JM Farrelly (1965), Ernest Margetson (1966), Eamon Sheil (1967), Edward Byrne (1968), Bruce St John Blake (1969), Gerard M Doyle (1970), Thelma King (1973), Johnny Hooper (1976), Moya Quinlan (1980), Rory O’Donnell (1981), Laurence K Shields, Elma Lynch, Gerard Griffin, Geraldine Clarke (1990), Dominic Dowling (1991), Terry Dixon, Tony Sheil (1992), Michael D Murphy, Justin McKenna, Gerard Doherty, Ruadhan Killeen (1997), and Hugh O’Neill (1998).

These presidents, among others, steered the association through a plethora of legal issues that arose, including court delays, poor conditions of courthouses, legal costs, and judicial appointments.

Party like it’s 1999

During the 1990s, the DSBA began to organise the annual conferences. These have taken place in such diverse locations as New York, Lisbon, Chicago, Washington, St Petersburg, Buenos Aires, Rome, Chicago, Bordeaux, Berlin, Cape Town, and New Orleans.

The DSBA conference has become an intrinsic part of the association’s activities, as a means of coupling great fun and collegiality with a generous dollop of CPD. There is always intrigue and fascination surrounding the president’s choice of venue – and colleagues from across the country are always welcome.

A critical moment in association history was the creation of The Parchment, under the initial editorship of Justin McKenna. Subsequent editors have included Stuart Gilhooly, Keith Walsh, myself, and the incumbent – long-standing editor John Geary.

The Parchment is a high-quality magazine full of practical information, and is reflective of the Dublin legal social scene.

During the ensuing decades, presidents have included Helen Sheehy (2001/02), Brian Gallagher (2007), Michael Quinlan, James McCourt (2002/03), John O’Connor (2003/04), Orla Coyne (2004/05), David Bergin (2006/07), and John P O’Malley (2009/10).

In recent years, Moya Quinlan, Andy Smyth, Laurence Shields, Elma Lynch, Gerard Griffin, Geraldine Clarke, James McCourt, Michael Quinlan and Stuart Gilhooly have served as Law Society presidents as well. Some also moved onto the bench, including Judges Gerard Griffin, John O’Connor, and James McCourt.

Golden years

An initiative of John O’Connor (now Circuit Court judge) was the annual ‘Golden Oldies’ lunch, to honour those of our colleagues in practice for over 50 years.

Another part of the DSBA calendar is the Judges’ Dinner, where Dublin-based judiciary from all courts meet colleagues in a social and relaxed setting.

At the heart of the DSBA have been impressive continuing professional development courses. The formula has always been the same: high-quality presentations, ideally from among its membership, at an affordable cost.

In recent years, the association has continued to thrive, with huge strides being made under the respective presidencies of Stuart Gilhooly, Geraldine Kelly, John Glynn, Keith Walsh, Aaron McKenna, Eamon Shannon, Áine Hynes, Robert Ryan, Gregg Ryan, Tony O’Sullivan, and the current holder, Joseph O’Malley.

The consistent theme and message of each president is – as always – to foster collegiality and goodwill among the membership, and to help and assist them in practice in every possible way.

At its very core is the small staff who generate its CPD offerings, look after the membership, coordinate committee meetings, generate template precedents, and field telephone queries.

The association was most fortunate to have as its first salar-ied administrator, Mary Rigney; followed in more recent years by the ubiquitous Maura Smith – always pleasant, helpful and available to the membership.

Kevin O’Higgins is principal of Dublin firm Kevin O’Higgins Solicitors and is a past-president of both the Law Society and the DSBA

Read and print a PDF of this article here.