President pays tribute to GB Shaw

Wed, May 30, 2012, 01:00

GEORGE BERNARD Shaw remains “one of Ireland’s and Dublin’s most illustrious sons”, President Michael D Higgins has said.

He was speaking last night at the National Gallery of Ireland at the opening of GB Shaw: Back in Town, the first international conference dedicated to Shaw to be held here.

The three-day event, beginning today at UCD and finishing at Dalkey Castle on Friday, is supported by the university and the International Shaw Society.

Mr Higgins praised Shaw’s contribution as “a moralist, essayist, dramatist, lecturer, advocate and ironist”. He said it was this humour, which subverted “the middle classes’ notions of themselves, their ‘respectability’ and its repressions”, that his critics caricatured to dislodge his arguments.

He said the playwright had “little time for sentimental evasion” and even at the height of his theatre success, took time to write to newspapers about “the excessive romanticising that surrounded the sinking of the Titanic”.

The President said Shaw “reminded the world that romanticising only obscured the real facts from the public, when the facts were needed”. He said in plays such as Widowers’ Houses and Major Barbara, the playwright “did not trim his message on such issues as the slums of Dublin or in exposing the philistinism of an uninformed commerce”.

Recalling Shaw’s role in politics, sharing a platform in London with James Connolly and AE George Russell in a rally in support of Larkin and locked-out Dublin workers, Mr Higgins said this was testimony to the author’s “commitment to politics and his role as a public intellectual”.

After 1916, Shaw had written to the London press to try to prevent the executions of the rebel leaders and also corresponded with contacts in the establishment in his efforts to save Roger Casement.

Describing the conference as timely, the President said it emphasised the importance of never forgetting the centrality of the literature debate in the events that led up to 1916 and independence.

LITERARY DISTINCTION: OSCAR AND NOBEL PRIZE WINNER

GEORGE BERNARD Shaw has the unique distinction of being the only person to win both an Oscar and a Nobel Prize.

He earned the Oscar statuette in 1938 for the first screen version of his most famous work, Pygmalion, a comedy of phonetics, class and morality. It subsequently became the hit musical My Fair Lady.

Shaw’s literary output earned him the 1925 Nobel Prize. In a 74-year career he wrote more than 60 plays, became a renowned critic and essayist, authored pamphlets and essays for British socialist movement the Fabian Society, and was one of the founders of the London School of Economics. He was also a noted wit, known for quips such as: “If all economists were laid end to end they would not reach a conclusion.”

Shaw was born in 1856 on Synge Street, Dublin. He started work at the age of 15 in an auctioneers’, before moving to London. He wrote five unsuccessful novels before acquiring work as a book reviewer and music critic.

His first play, Widowers’ Houses, was written in 1892, followed by Arms and the Man, Candida and The Devil’s Disciple.

John Bull’s Other Island was a triumph in 1904, followed by Man and Superman, Major Barbara and The Doctor’s Dilemma, a comedy whose humour was directed at the medical profession.

In 1898 he married Anglo-Irishwoman Charlotte Payne- Townshend. He died in 1950, aged 94, after he fell from a ladder while pruning trees.

He maintained a lifelong interest in Ireland, and the National Gallery of Ireland was one of the beneficiaries in his will.