Shaw, Sir Robert (1774–1849), banker, MP, and lord mayor of Dublin, was born 29 January 1774 in Dublin, eldest son of Robert Shaw, merchant, banker, and controller of the post office, of Kilkenny and Dublin, and his first wife, Mary, daughter of William Higgins of Higginsbrook, Co. Meath. His initial education was at the school of a Mr Kerr and in October 1788 he entered TCD, as a senior commoner. He graduated BA (1792) and MA (1832). On finishing his education he worked in his father's merchant's business, then based at 78 Fleet St., Dublin, before embarking on business ventures of his own. In 1795 he became a member of the Association for the Protection of Property and the Constitution and was also elected a governor of the Hibernian Marine Society. He was commissioned as a cornet in the Rathfarnham troop of the Royal Dublin City Militia in 1796 and was later elected as a free merchant of the city of Dublin (1797). In 1797 he successfully stood as a candidate in the elections for high sheriff of Dublin. He then decided that he did not want to hold this office and was allowed to resign, on the condition that he pay a fine of 300 guineas.
He entered the Irish parliament in 1799 as MP for Bannow, Co. Wexford, a seat controlled by Lord Ely (qv). He immediately made it apparent that he would vote against the act of union, and was persuaded by Ely to resign. He then bought the seat for St Johnstown, Co. Longford, from the anti-union earl of Granard (qv). He voted against the union in both 1799 and 1800; after the passing of the act, his seat was abolished but he was returned for Dublin city to the Westminster parliament in March 1804. He supported Pitt's second ministry, and in June 1804 introduced a bill for the relief of insolvent debtors.
During his first years at Westminster he was noted for his opposition to catholic emancipation and was seen as the voice of the protestant interest in Dublin corporation. In May 1805 he presented the corporation's petition against catholic claims, and during the election of 1806 the Freeman's Journal circulated a report that his supporters wore Orange cockades at the hustings. He strenuously denied this; yet, while he was not a member of the Orange order, his speeches were often anti-catholic. In April 1808 he voted in the commons against proposals to increase the government grant to Maynooth College. At the same time he was renowned for his philanthropic works and even sold his pack of hounds to endow a charity school for catholic and protestant orphans. In 1809 he voted with the minority in an attack on alleged corruption by Lord Castlereagh (qv), and throughout 1810 voted both with and against the government in the debates on the Scheldt inquiry.
In 1810 he attended the repeal meeting of ‘freemen and freeholders’ in Dublin (Hill, 267) and became an associate of Daniel O'Connell (qv). He was also displaying a more conciliatory attitude to catholic emancipation and spoke sympathetically on catholic claims in May 1810. In March 1811 he criticised the government for the heavy-handed way in which they had suppressed catholic meetings. For the rest of that parliamentary session, he consistently opposed the government, voting against distilling and newspaper stamp duties while criticising the budget and supporting Christopher Hely-Hutchinson (qv) when he claimed that Irish affairs were being badly managed. Yet he continued to vacillate and spoke against catholic claims in June 1811 and then in favour of them in April 1812. Around the same time the duke of Richmond (qv), then lord lieutenant of Ireland, informed him that his occasional support of catholic emancipation was an impediment to his being created a baronet.
In May 1812 he opposed the government on the sinecures bill and later voted for catholic relief in 1813, 1817, and 1819. He was appointed to the corn trade committee (1813) and elected lord mayor of Dublin (1815). While still regarded as a supporter of Lord Liverpool's administration, Shaw introduced unsuccessful motions in the commons against the Irish window tax in 1817, 1818, and 1819. In 1821 he was made a baronet and honorary colonel of the Royal Dublin Militia.
During his political career, he had also established himself as one of the most successful bankers in Dublin. He was one of the signatories of a declaration to honour Bank of Ireland notes in 1797. In 1799 he became a leading partner in the banking company of Lighton, Needham, & Shaw, contributing capital of £20,000 to the initial venture. The bank, with premises in Foster Place, was very successful and was the Dublin agent for banks in Cork, Limerick, and Waterford. His bank later traded as Robert Shaw & Son and, after 1821, was renamed as Sir Robert Shaw, Baronet, & Co. It was one of the few banks to survive the financial crises of 1820 and 1831. In 1836 it merged with the Bank of Ireland. As well as being lord mayor of Dublin (1815–16), he held other civic appointments, serving as sheriff's peer (1799) and sheriff (1806–7), and was elected an alderman in 1808. He retired from politics in 1826 and died on 10 March 1849. He was buried in Rathfarnham cemetery.
He married first (January 1796) Maria (d. 1831), daughter of Abraham Wilkinson of Dawson St., Dublin, and Bushy Park, Co. Dublin. For her dowry she received £10,000, Bushy Park House, and 100 adjoining acres. They had five sons and three daughters. He married secondly (July 1834) Amelia (d. 1860), only daughter of Benjamin Spencer, MD, of Bristol. There were no children by this second marriage. Apart from his Bushy Park residence, he inherited Terenure House in Co. Dublin, after the death of his father in 1796.