Shirley, Walter (1725–86), evangelical clergyman, was born 23 September 1725 in the family mansion at Staunton Harold, Leicestershire, England, fourth son among six sons and six daughters of Laurence Shirley, son of the 1st Earl Ferrers, and his first wife, Anne, daughter of Sir Walter Clarges. His father later remarried; three of his sons succeeded to the title of Earl Ferrers. Walter's eldest brother, Laurence Ferrers, 4th Earl Ferrers, who was eccentric and often violent, was found guilty after trial by his peers in 1760 of murdering his steward, and was hanged at Tyburn. Walter Shirley attended New College, Oxford, graduated BA (1746), was ordained in the Church of Ireland and took up the family living of Loughrea, Co. Galway. He was increasingly affected by the revival of religion associated with the development of methodism, and in particular by the Wesleys, George Whitefield, and others of the charismatic preachers who thronged around his famous cousin, Selina, countess of Huntingdon. He began to preach on evangelical lines in his own and other parishes, for which he was censured by his bishop. He frequently visited England, and was for a time the countess's chaplain. He recommended that the countess of Huntingdon's ‘Connection’, as their group was known, should rent Plunkett St. chapel in Dublin; he was threatened with censure for preaching there, but remained all his life a clergyman of the Church of Ireland.
In 1770 he took a leading role with the countess in an attack on the Wesleys and their supporters over controversial minutes of the conference, in which Calvinist doctrines were rejected. Shirley and the countess issued a circular letter to clergy and laity of all denominations, urging them to attend the next conference in 1771 at the countess's expense to attack the Wesleys for Arminian doctrines. Shirley was obliged to acknowledge that the circular letter was hasty and offensive (it had been entitled ‘Popery unmasked’), and since it had had little support, some progress toward reconciliation took place at a meeting in Bristol. Shirley still further offended the Wesleys' party when he chose to regard their conciliatory declaration as a recantation of the obnoxious minutes. He published in 1771 a narrative of the events in which he had been involved; he was later reconciled with J. W. Fletcher, author of a work critical of Shirley's views, Checks to antinomianism. In 1774 he edited a hymnbook first compiled by the countess of Huntingdon, adding some of his own compositions; it remained in use in the Connection for many years. He was author of ‘Lord dismiss us with thy blessing’ and a number of other hymns still occasionally sung, and he published two poems and some sermons. His preaching and ministry were influential in the area round Loughrea, and in his latter years, when he was incapacitated by dropsy, he used to preach in his own house to large crowds. He died 7 April 1786 at the house of his brother-in-law, George Kiernan, in Dublin and was buried in St Mary's churchyard, Dublin.
He married (27 August 1766) at St Mary's church, Dublin, Henrietta Maria Phillips of Dublin, whose father, John Phillips, was an illegitimate son of Robert, 1st Viscount Molesworth (qv). Walter and Henrietta Shirley had two sons and three daughters; his grandson Walter Augustus Shirley (1797–1847), who was born at Westport, Co. Mayo, was an influential Anglican evangelical clergyman who became bishop of Sodor and Man shortly before his death. A portrait of Walter Shirley was owned by his family, and another was in the library of Cheshunt college.