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Carlow County - Ireland Genealogical Projects (IGP TM)


George Bernard Shaw
(1856-1950)


Shaw's Generosity

It is a well-documented fact that Bernard Shaw twice showed generosity to the town of Carlow, first through the presentation of the Old Assembly Rooms for conversion into a technical school (it is now Carlow's central library), and later by the transfer to the municipality of seventeen parcels of land, the rents from which were to be used to subsidise cultural activities in the town. What is not generally realised, however, is that Shaw, a lifelong Socialist who vigorously practiced what he preached, surreptitiously contributed to the public wealth and to needy individuals a larger portion of his income than did any of his professional contemporaries.

The following article, indicating the extent of Shaw's civic-mindedness and commitment to public and private charity, was written as a preface to a 1981 limited-edition facsimile, designed to be a Keepsake for the Friends of the Washington University Libraries, St. Louis, on the pencil draft of Shaw's only known charity appeal, on behalf of the King Edward Memorial Hospital, London, 1928. The preface is here "publicly published" for the first time, by permission of the author.

"Please do not ask Mr. Bernard Shaw for money", a printed correspondence card advised suppliants. "He has not enough to help the large number of his readers who are in urgent need of it. He can write for you: he cannot finance you." Almost invariably the message was accompanied by a cheque, with an added handwritten note to inform the correspondent that an exception was being made in this instance on the understanding that there was to be no further solicitation and that the gift would be kept secret.

Plagued by an unending stream of appeals, not from the truly needy, but from professional mendicants "who have discovered that it is possible to live by simply impudently asking for what they want until they get it," Shaw loudly proclaimed that his donations were restricted to undenominational public bodies and that he would entertain no personal appeals. He was probably, however, the most charitable professional man of his generation. For more than half a century he accepted the burden of support for his sister and his cousins and his aunts, an enormous horde of drones, paying their rents and mortgages, their education and emigration costs, their doctors' bills and funeral expenses. Additionally, he and his wife Charlotte picked up the tab for the schooling of offspring of numerous Socialist colleagues and, in his late years, Shaw underwrote university fees for, among others, sons of his neighbour Stephen Winsten and of the American artist Molly Tompkins.

Although he had argued in 1896 that "a safe rule for the millionaire is never to do anything for the public, any more than for an individual, that the public will do (because it must) for itself without his intervention," and had further admonished the wealthy "never [to] give a farthing to an ordinary hospital," Shaw's private contributions to institutions were large, frequent, and widespread. His largesse was broadcast indiscriminately to such variegated causes as the Actors' Orphanage, the Royal Literary Fund, the Society for the Protection of Birds, the Bishop Foley Memorial Schools at Carlow, the Lord Mayor's National Flood Distress Fund, Chaim Weitzmann's Zionist Appeal, and the Bells of Bray Repair Fund, as well as to the building funds of the Academy of Dramatic Art, the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre at Stratford-upon-Avon, the Mansfield House University Settlement, and the National Theatre of England.

Unknown to most, Shaw maintained an extended list of individuals of his acquaintance who stood in need of assistance, and distributed bank drafts each year to the entire list. There were few actors or journalists in London who were not indebted to Shaw for dentures or eyeglasses or boots. If he had permitted the information to be made public, his name and Charlotte's would have headed most subscription lists, for their contribution was invariably the largest, whether for bail money to get an anarchist colleague, Nicholas Tchaykowsky, out of a St. Petersburg jail or to provide succour for the family of the assassinated Michael Collins; to aid Roger Fry to open an art workshop or to keep an itinerant marionette showman, Clunn Lewis, on the road. He quietly diverted play royalties from amateur performances to the Travellers' Aid Society, and secretly corresponded with and visited the prime minister, Stanley Baldwin, to solicit government aid for T. E. Lawrence.

Upon learning that the musician Arnold Dolmetsch was faced with imminent surgery, Shaw instantly volunteered that he had "more money lying unused at the bank than I shall want this year," and asked Dolmetsch to draw freely on it. After making a "loan" to an aged Socialist cohort, Duncan Dallas, he benevolently drafted a note to attach to the proffered I.O.U. "In case I die before this is repaid my executors are not to attempt to recover this sum ... as I lent the money on the understanding that he was to choose his own time to repay it." There were no-string, no-interest loans to the writer St. John Ervine, the actor Robert Loraine, the economist S. G. Hobson, and Shaw's early love, Alice Lockett. Refusing a loan to the actor Esme Percy, he sent instead a gift of 100 for past favours, the accompanying letter warning, "On your life, don't tell anybody." He "commissioned" a play from the poet John Davidson for 250 to avoid the appearance of the money being charity. For similar reasons, when concerned that the widows of Frank Harris and G. K. Chesterton might have "temporal bothers" that he could alleviate, he dug from his files and posted to them all the letters from their husbands that he could find to enable them to obtain greater sums from simultaneous sale of both halves of the manuscript correspondence.

Even after his death Shaw's benefactions continued, for in his will he indulgently provided annuities for relatives and for past and present employees and their surviving spouses, with thoughtfully built-in cost-of-living adjustments. Moreover, the bulk of his estate was bequeathed to three public institutions: the British Museum, Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, and National Gallery of Ireland, netting them several million pounds to date. Shaw's testament, said St. John Ervine in his 1956 biography, "is one of the most public-spirited in the whole history of bequests." It was, however, his long-time friend Henry S. Salt who best summed up this aspect of the Irish dramatist when, in a letter to the printer Emery Walker in 1930, he noted: "Shaw is as kind in action as he is tart in speech."

Dan H. Laurence,

Literary & Dramatic Advisor to the Estate of Bernard Shaw.

Previously published in Carlow Past & Present Vol. 1. No. 3. 1990 p. 111 & 112


George Bernard Shaw property

Athy Road / Gurly Family

Part of the property owned by George Bernard Shaw was the ground on which St Anne's church was built....filed as Property # 1 the folio consisted of 6 houses, 4 on the Athy Road and 2 on the northside  in Grave Lane.....Property folio # 2 was 2 houses on the Athy Road and 2 on the southside in Grave Lane....property folio # 3 was 1 house on the Athy Road (first house after Montgomery Street facing the Seven Oaks Hotel), this is a large building with a double roof and was I believe the last house occupied by relatives of the Gurley family......at least 7 of the original buildings remain standing on the Athy Road .......Property folio # 1A is the ground of the Old Graves on the Barrow Track, some people believe this included the old Town Park (now named Shaw Park)......the remaining property owned by GBS was / is situated in John Street, Tullow Street, Dublin Street, Centaur Street, Ballymanus Terrace, The Quays.

Mostly subject to Ground Rent payments, the income from which was to be directed for the benefit of the Arts in Carlow.....many years ago with the assistance of Dan H. Laurence (then adviser to the estate of GBS Google him.)

I attempted to trace the whereabouts of the fund that Shaw proposed for Carlow, all we could establish back then was that the erection of the Christmas Crib on the steps of Carlow Courthouse is funded by the Shaw estate!....Dan Laurence travelled from Canada to investigate this, while he was here he unveiled a Plaque to GBS on one of the buildings Shaw owned in Tullow Street...this was paid for by the sale of a letter from GBS, which I sold by auction, it was purchased for 500 by Malcolmson and Law ....the letter was presented to me by Fred McCombe, grandson of Rowan McCombe (Rowan was the first person to erect a Plaque to the "Men of 1798" in Graiguecullen,). The Shaw Plaque unveiled by Dan Laurence in 1998 cost 200 and the remaining 300 went to pay for a Plaque to the memory of Iona McLeod, who had been County Librarian in Carlow for nearly 50 years. This Plaque is erected on another Gurley building opposite Carlow.

Source: Michael Purcell 2012

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The Old Assembly Rooms

The information contained in these pages is provided solely for the purpose of sharing with others researching their ancestors in Ireland.
2001 Ireland Genealogy Projects, IGP TM 

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