Last Saturday marked the 50th anniversary of the death of Barry Fitzgerald, the well-known actor. Born William Joseph Shields in 1888, he followed his brother Arthur into the Abbey Theatre in 1915, taking the stage name Barry Fitzgerald so as not to draw the attention of his employers (the Department of Industry and Commerce). Although he did not become a full-time actor until 1929, he played a number of notable roles, including Fluther Good in the premiere of The Plough and the Stars. One of Sean O’Casey’s favourite actors at the time. In 1932 he toured America with the Abbey, and returned in 1936 when the director John Ford cast him in his film version of The Plough and the Stars. Numerous roles followed, including parts in Howard Hawks's Bringing up Baby (1938), and in four more Ford movies, including playing a Welshman in How Green was my Valley (1941). His defining role, however, came in 1944 when he starred as Fr Fitzgibbon alongside Bing Crosby in Going My Way (1944), winning an Oscar as Best Supporting Actor for the role. He is probably best remembered now for his role as the match-maker Michaeleen Og in The Quiet Man (1951), a film which also featured Arthur Shields.
Information on Barry’s acting career and family can be found in the Shields Family Papers held here at the James Hardiman Library. The full descriptive list of the collection is available at http://archives.library.nuigalway.ie/cgi-bin/FramedList.cgi?T13 and some of the items from the collection are available from our digitized collections http://archives.library.nuigalway.ie:8080/digi/exbos/T13/SlideShow The collection includes many photographs of Barry, as well as correspondence by and about him. In a poignant letter to a fan written shortly after Fitzgerald's death in January 1961 Arthur Shields wrote of his brother 'Barry was a very shy little man and he was uncomfortable in crowds and really dreaded meeting new people, but he was not a recluse and did enjoy certain company, especially when the 'old chat' was good.' (see T13/311).