George Bernard Shaw

(1856 - 1950)

The Carlow Connection


George Bernard Shaw was born in Dublin on the 26th of July 1856. He is considered the most significant British playwright since the seventeenth century. In June of 1898, he married Charlotte Payne-Townsend

His relations in Carlow were from his mothers side and when his uncle, Walter John Gurly, died at the end of the nineteenth century, G.B.S. found himself the owner of 'his cursed property and debts' in Carlow. He wrote: 'I have succeeded through the death of my uncle to a family estate in Ireland - a miserable relic of former country splendour, all mortgages and poor relations.... My blessed uncle had not paid even his servant's wages for ten years, and had borrowed every farthing he could. I shall have to pay his debts because I am inheriting the privileges of paying the interest on half a dozen Carlow mortgages.'

The principal site was known as the Old Assembly Rooms in the centre of Carlow. It was a fair sized building measuring some ninety feet in depth and commanding a fifty-foot frontage. In 1915, Shaw received a petition inviting him to present this property to the town of Carlow for use as a technical school. He was told that at present, the classes in Technical Instruction are being held in makeshift premises. Consequently instruction is very much restricted. As the consideration for this deal he was promised that his 'honoured name will be revered in perpetuity'. The Assembly Rooms over the years had cost G.B.S. almost 300 pounds. In 1918, Shaw signed the deed transferring them to Carlow 'in consideration of the place being used for public purposes and (if possible) the old front of the building being retained for the sake of its decorative effect.' The property was later turned into a vocational school and after Shaw's death, it facade still intact, has become the County Library Headquarters.

The remaining seventeen parcels of Gurly property, Shaw retained for another twenty five years. In his published writings G.B.S. represented himself as a conventional absentee landlord in order to show up the legal impropriety of the property market. 'I pocket a modest income from it, earned by the labour of its inhabitants, who have never seen me nor received any service from me,' he confessed. 'A grosser malversation can hardly be imagined; but it is not my fault: I have to accept it as the law of the land; for there is no alternative open to me. I am strongly in favour of this little estate of mine being municipalized.'

He wrote to the Taoiseach Éamon de Valera in May 1945 to introduce into the Dáil a new law enabling local authorities to accept, hold and administer gifts of property provided they adapt of 'Civic Improvement Scheme'. The bill was passes that summer. On the thirteenth of August 1945, all Shaw's Carlow property was passes to the Urban District Council. A condition of all gifts, and their income, was that they could not be absorbed into general assets for the relief of rates since, Shaw believed that a reduction in rates merely assisted landlords 'on whom the rates finally fell, without benefiting the country or improving the town'.

For nearly twenty five years the Carlow Urban District Council made financial help available from its Shaw Fund for cultural and artistic purposes. But subsequent legislation in Ireland, including

             The Local Government (Planning and Development) Act 1963
             The Housing Act 1966
             The Arts Act  1973
All of which enabled local councils to subsidise a widening range of endeavours out of the rates. This meant the Shaw Fund could not be used for any identifiable civic improvement without being in breach of its rates relief condition. For twenty five years, the fund was frozen except to erect a Christmas Crib at the Courthouse each year. The Carlovians eventually came up with a brain wave, and invited the British ambassador to open their own Shaw-funded Shaw Festival in 1991 with its programme of lectures, workshops in the Old Assembly Rooms, school prizes, musical events, the renaming of the Town Park after G.B.S. and a spirited production of How He Lied to Her Husband.

Research for this web page used the following sources:

The Shaw Companion
Volume 4 The Last Laugh
by Michael Holroyd

The Goodly Barrow

By T.F. O'Sullivan

The Pictures are from:

Bernard Shaw Volume 1 1856-1898
The Search for Love
by Michael Holroyd

There is a Shaw festival in Ontario, Canada

Zia have a Shaw resource page.


to RTC Carlow index page
AK 7th March 1997