Brother with an artistic talent


Brother Joseph (Joe) McNally, who died on August 27th aged 79, was a Mayo man and member of the De La Salle order who became a prominent figure in the visual arts and education in Singapore.

A painter and sculptor, he was a member of the Singapore National Arts Council and President Emeritus of La Salle-SIA College of the Arts, as well as serving on many committees and advisory boards related to culture.

Joe McNally was born on August 10th, 1923, in Dereerin, Co Mayo, one of 10 children of Thomas and Bridget McNally. The family moved to nearby Ballintubber where he attended the national school. A visit to the school by Brother Anselm of the De La Salle order, who was seeking vocations, led him to enter religious life.

From 1937 to 1939 he studied at De La Salle Retreat, Co Laois, entering the novitiate in 1939. He continued his studies at De La Salle College Scholasticate in Mallow, Co Cork, from 1940 to 1943.

On being professed, he volunteered for missionary work in the Far East in 1946. A highly motivated teacher, he first taught at St Joseph's Institution, Singapore. He then moved to Kuala Lumpur and became the principal of St John's Institution. In 1973 he returned to Singapore and spent 10 years as principal of St Patrick's School.

He had become interested in art while in Mallow, attending classes in the local technical school. In 1946 he won first prize for painting in a competition in Limerick and in 1948 exhibited with the Singapore Art Society. In 1951 he returned to Ireland to study at the National College of Art and was awarded a fine art diploma in 1954. That year also his first one-man show was held at the Brown Thomas Gallery, Dublin.

Brother McNally resumed his studies in Rome (1960-61) and received an MA from Columbia University, New York, in 1969. He was awarded a doctorate in education by Columbia in 1972.

His extensive learning was put to good use in 1983 when he founded a modest art school that was, in time, to become the internationally-known La Salle-SIA College of the Arts.

He sought to develop in La Salle College a programme of art education that acknowledged ideas from abroad, but discouraged students from slavishly copying them. "The artist," he said, "should still be true to what is within and transmute foreign stimuli through that personal vision."

Brother McNally applied his energy and enthusiasm to finding the resources necessary to put his ideas into practice. His perseverance paid off when he persuaded Singapore Airlines to provide substantial funding that put LaSalle College on a sound financial footing.

Meanwhile, he continued working as an artist. His early works, mainly paintings, were representational and reflected the academic conventions of the National College of Art. Later his work became more expressive and self-assured, and he concentrated almost exclusively on sculpture. Brother McNally exhibited in Singapore and Japan and, more recently, in the United States. An exhibition of his sculpture was held in Limerick in 1982.

Honorary doctorates were awarded by the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (1994), National University of Ireland, Cork (1995) and the University of Jakarta, Indonesia (2000). He was made an Honorary Associate of the National College of Art and Design, Dublin, in 2000. In 1996 he was made a Paul Harris Fellow of Rotary International, and in 1998 he received the Montblanc de la Culture Award.

Brother McNally became a Singaporean citizen in 1985. He regularly visited Ireland to meet family, friends and colleagues. A selection of his work will be on view in St Stephen's Green, Dublin, from March 24th to April 21st next year. He is survived by his sisters, Bridget and Teresa, and brother, Aidan.

Brother Joseph McNally: born 1923; died August 27th 2002.