David Shaw Smith

Maker of the 'Hands' series

By Averil Staunton

Born in Dublin in 1939, David Shaw Smith was educated in Dublin, Scotland and emigrated to the U.S. before returning to Ireland in 1961 to work for RTÉ. For some time he lived at the old Blosse Lynch family home Partry House just outside Ballinrobe and still lives with his wife Sally in the area.


Most of his career was spent as a documentary film-maker. Since 1970 he produced over a hundred television documentaries. From 1987 he has held a seat on the board of the Crafts Council of Ireland. He founded Ceárta Inneona, in 1999, Ireland's first blacksmithing school.


David Shaw Smith’s awards include the Special Jury Selection at the Los Angeles International Film Festival in 1993, the Jacob's Television Critics Award in 1986 and the Golden Harp Award in 1984.  

He was awarded an honorary doctorate from Trinity College, Dublin in 1987 and in 2005 received funding from The Heritage Council for an Audiovisual Irish Heritage Archive. David is currently a member of Aosdána.

The 'Hands' Series

David and his wife and partner Sally Shaw-Smith, who has been working very closely with him on many of his projects, made the 'HANDS' series, a unique, multi-award winning series of thirty-seven documnentries on Irish crafts for Irish television R.T.É. The themes captured the final years of traditional rural and urban life in Ireland, during the seventies and eighties. David and Sally travelled the length and breadth of the country recording the films, which were as much about the life of the individuals, as the crafts they practised. The drawings in the book were created by Sally.

Family interests

Anyone who knows David realises that first and foremost he is a family man. Sally and himself, who have been married over 46 years, have four children.

Their passion for the arts has certainly been passed on - Emma is a book illustrator, Melissa writes for children, and Sophie and Daniel are both artists.

Currently their wonderful series, Hands, is being revisited and broadcast by R.T.E.

Photo:David Shaw Smith

David Shaw Smith

Photo:Sally and David Shaw Smith a unique and creative partnership

Sally and David Shaw Smith a unique and creative partnership

This page was added by Averil Staunton on 09/07/2011.
Comments about this page

Sad news today David Shaw Smith Passed today 1939- 2021

Editor: David RIP died on the 16th January at Friarsquarter Nursing Home in Ballinrobe.

By Michael Byro
On 01/02/2021

Copy of a letter I wrote to Sally Shaw-Smith after receing my box set of 'Hands':

"Thank you very much for the box set of 'Hands'. It is beautifully packed and I particularly liked your handwriting.

When I ordered it, I had not realised that I was doing so from one of the makers of the films, and that makes it so much better for me to know that my money is going directly to you (less the usual deductions for production, of course).

When I first watched this series in Manchester. I could not wait for the week to go by so I could see the next programme. I really liked seeing the careworn hands of the lady who had laboured skillfully all her life to earn money and bring up her family. It summed up so much, and even now, I get misty eyed looking at that same picture, in colour, on the box.

My father learnt to be a carpenter and joiner before the war in Cork, when jobs were scarce and an apprenticeship was like a lottery win. He had to be good and he was. He trained me in the craft, and  he always told me to listen to my tools. They tell us if we are doing the job right.

Even now I can hear the swish of someone sawing wood and can tell if the person is an experienced professional or an enthusiastic DIYer. You can also tell the mood of the person using tools too.

He also taught me to use my nose as well as my eyes and ears and, most important, to touch the wood and tools with respect.

I can't wait to go through all the episodes, which I know I shall enjoy enormously. You and David did so much more than record the skills of living museums of crafts, you gave these people an  immortality that they deserve more than many of the people who are set up on plinths in our towns, or who are lauded on trite TV shows and garish headlines. 

Thank you again Sally, for what you and David did for these people, and for those of us who appreciate them."

By John (Seán) Linehan
On 24/01/2017

My Father, Louis Brennan,from Kiltimagh,introduced me to the "Hands" series and we were delighted that we were able to buy the box set of DVD's, which we've revisited many times.

Whilst researching for my collection "Unsung Heroes," specifically about all those men and women who've made such a huge contribution to our textile heritage, I've been so grateful to be able to reference their fantastic book,"Traditional Crafts of Ireland."

We are indebted to you both for recording our history so beautifully.

Yours, Lou Brennan

Editor: Thanks Lou, I'm sure David will appreciate you comments and information.

By Lou Brennan
On 09/02/2016

I have enjoyed the series and have the fortune to live near Davids daughter Melissa and have become friends. Yesterday Aug. 8 2015 I was invited to a party at Melissa Shaw Smith's house and got to meet David and his wife Sally and spent some lovely hours talking with him. Hope to see him before he goes back to Ireland.

By Michael Byro
On 13/08/2015

I am fascinated all over again watching the Hands Revisited  series. If you had'nt gone to the trouble to  make the series  so much would have been lost forever. Thank you

By Aine Hickey
On 14/05/2015

I very much enjoyed the repeat of the 'Hands' Programme recently shown on RTE.

By Mary OSullivan
On 06/06/2013

We were delighted to meet both David & Sally Shaw-Smith at the Museum of Country Life outside Castlebar, on Tuesday last (20th September). Also to read online that the "Hands" series is now available on DVD, and in a box set. Best Wishes.

By Ken & Janice Mathews
On 23/09/2011