The sense that there is at least a pinch of wisdom in his quip has grown considerably, not least since both sides have spent most of the period since he published John Bull's Other Island refusing their allotted roles. If it too flippant a remark to be an entirely appropriate response to the Bloody Sunday inquiry report, the events of yesterday also made Shaw's case.
It has been for the British to focus on uncovering and stating the truth. David Cameron's strong and dignified House of Commons statement, solemnly accepting responsibility for the "unjustified and unjustifiable" killings of citizens by soldiers acting in the name of the British state unequivocally owned the shocking (yet, by now, predictable) results of the inquiry in a way which spoke to the necessity of British remembering. Indeed, it was the clarity and authority (and so the very expensive, much lamented, comprehensiveness) of the Saville report's findings which muted the 'whataboutery' those asking 'why so much fuss about these killings and not others?
It has been the response of the families of the victims, and Derry's broader Catholic community which provides grounds for hope that the report may now provide closure. Certainly, the long campaign of the victim's families for the truth, and the exoneration of the deceased, speaks to the importance and value of their persistence and remembering too. Yet the sight of the large Derry crowd warmly applauding the words of the British Prime Minister suggested that official public acknowledgement of the truth - which would now be "the verdict of history of all time" - and the ability of the families to declare their relatives innocent of the slurs of the Widgery report, took priority yesterday over the question of future prosecutions of the perpetrators. The mood was one of catharsis, not of vengeance.
Yesterday it seemed, perhaps against expectations even over the last few days, that the report might prove more significant as a moment of reconciliation than another occasion for an auction between competing grievances about past wrongs, among those on any side who will only ever want to acknowledge the legitimacy of the hurt caused within one community while always blaming the victims within the other.
Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan puts the essential point against those who would diminish the particular significance of Bloody Sunday:
Some commentators opposed the whole idea of reopening the wretched episode. Why such a disproportionate focus on Bloody Sunday? they asked. What about Bloody Friday? What about Birmingham and Warrington and Shankill and Crossmaglen and a hundred other IRA murders? Why should we even consider of prosecuting British Servicemen when we have freed hundreds of Republican and Loyalist paramilitaries?
The answer, surely, is that our soldiers are not to be judged by the same standard as terrorist bombers. They operate according to the rule of law. This is basis of their legitimacy and, indeed, of Britain’s jurisdiction in Northern Ireland. When rules are broken, there must be consequences. It is creditable that we should support British Servicemen. But we do not support them by taking, as it were, an anti-Dreyfusard position, refusing to admit that our soldiers can ever be in the wrong.
The individuals killed were innocent. They were marching for civil rights. To somehow regard the deaths of those killed as to be weighed in the balance against any acts perpetrated by any of their co-religionists, is to succumb to the mentality of an endless and inescapable civil war.
Yes, those killed were part of a community - two communities - often involved in a deep, complex and often tragic clash between two competing identities, two incompatible histories and two deeply felt sets of grievances often asserted to be irreconciliable. But the task of politics is to prove that claim wrong. The (fragile) achievement of politics is that it may be winning.
So there is already an emerging (if not universal) consensus that the inquiry was an important and necessary act on the part of the British state. That is right. But there may even be a danger of a congratulatory complacency creeping in. A classic "bad apples" theory of the actions of individual soliders ignores the scale of the official cover-up. (Indeed the perjury continued through this inquiry, and may provide the hardest question for prosecutors).
The hard truth is also that peace processes do often make a trade-off between peace and justice, as the release of those guilty of terrorist murders and atrocities demonstrates. The case for this inquiry was that the trade-off should not be made conveniently with the truth itself, but rather in what is done in the knowledge of it. It is ultimately necessary to remember and acknowledge if we are ever to forget.
Bloody Sunday began with a civil rights march of Northern Ireland's Catholics to protest their being treated as second class citizens. The point was tragically proved not just by the recklessness which killed thirteen people but, perhaps above all, by the state's lack of concern after the event to account seriously or honestly for their deaths.
It may have taken 38 years but, unlike the killings themselves, that was a wrong which could be put right. Bloody Sunday and the subsequent cover-up was an episode which has brought shame on British justice. As a day of necessary atonement, yesterday was finally also a good day for British justice and, it is to be hoped, for Northern Ireland too.