Fitzgerald, Barry (1888–1961), actor, was born 10 March 1888 in Dublin and christened William Joseph Shields, eldest son of Adolphus William Shields, compositor and well-known Dublin union organiser, and Fanny Shields (née Ungerland). Educated at Merchant Taylors’ School and Skerry's Civil Service College, he joined the civil service in the unemployment insurance division (1909–29). Following his brother, Arthur ‘Boss’ Shields (qv), into acting, in 1915 he joined the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, and took the stage name ‘Barry Fitzgerald’ so as not to compromise his civil service position.
Success in a number of roles followed. He made his screen debut in Land of her fathers, filmed in Ireland in 1924 and in the same year he played Captain Jack Boyle in the stage premier of Sean O’Casey’s (qv) ‘Juno and the Paycock’. In 1926 he played the original Fluther Good in O'Casey's ‘The plough and the stars’, and the playwright claimed that when a protester took to the stage during the play's opening week, Fitzgerald sent him ‘flying into the stalls with a Flutherian punch on the jaw’; other accounts had Fitzgerald coming off worse from the scrap. O'Casey admired his acting abilities and later wrote ‘The silver tassie’ for him. His casting as Orator in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1930 film version of ‘Juno and the Paycock’ finally convinced him to become a professional actor and he resigned from the civil service. In 1932 he toured America with the Abbey, and returned in 1936 when the director John Ford (qv) 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). His scene-stealing turn as a stage-Irishman led to his being nominated for two academy awards for the same film, as best actor and best supporting actor, the first and last time anyone was nominated for two awards for the same role. He won the Oscar for best supporting actor. The success of Going my way led to Fitzgerald's being typecast as an over-the-top Irishman, and he noted with regret that whatever nationality he was given to play, his character soon became an Irishman. Despite displaying more versatile acting talents in And then there were none (1945), and The naked city (1948), he is probably most remembered on screen for his role as the matchmaker, Michaeleen Óg, in the John Ford classic The quiet man (1952) (in which his brother Arthur also appeared). One of his final acting appearances was on television, as a guest on the 1955 Christmas edition of ‘Alfred Hitchcock presents’. Returning to Ireland c.1959 he died in Dublin on 4 January 1961; he never married.
Fitzgerald was the first Irish person to win an Oscar and on 8 February 1960 he was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.