Brother McNally

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Artist Profile
Teng, Sharon written on 22-Dec-2002
National Library Board Singapore

 


Brother John Joseph McNally (
b. 1923, Ballintubber, Ireland - d. 27 August 2002, County Mayo, Ireland), nicknamed Brother Joe, a brother from the Catholic La Salle Christian Brotherhood who had dedicated 37 years of his life to teaching in Singapore and Malaysia. He later gained renown as a sculptor and artist and was also the founder and President Emeritus of the La Salle-SIA College of the Arts.


Early life
Brother Joseph's ancestors were Welshmen who had migrated to West Ireland along with the Normans in 1190. His surname, McNally, can be interpreted either as "son of Nally", after the first McNally ancestor, Nally Baret, who settled down in Ballintubber; or "son of the Ulster man" meaning "son of the poet".

Born in Ballintubber (Gaelic name meaning "fountain or well of St Patrick"), Ireland, in 1923, Brother Joseph grew up on a farm on the West Coast, in the County Mayo. This farming community, with its roots in ancient history and a harsh glacial-stripped landscape, would shape Brother Joseph's artistic vision in adulthood. Although he was a sickly child, Brother Joseph was well-sheltered and cared for by his family. His first attempt at art was a caricature drawing of a village resident, which was received with appreciative laughter. At the age of 14, he left his hometown to join the La Salle Brothers, the path of a religious educator rather than that of the priesthood.

Teaching first at De La Salle College, Mallow, Ireland then moving to St. Joseph's Institution, in Singapore, Brother Joseph continued to teach at St. John's Institution in Kuala Lumpur, before returning to Ireland to pursue further studies at the Irish National College of Art, Dublin. Upon graduating, he taught at St. Paul's Institution in Seremban, Malaysia (1955), moving on to teach at St. Xavier's Institution in Penang in 1957. He was appointed as a staff member of St. Joseph's Training College in 1958 and eventually become the Principal of St. John's Institution in 1963. He also took up Malaysian citizenship in 1965.

In 1973, Brother Joseph joined St. Patrick's as a teacher and became its principal in 1975. He implemented many radical changes during his stint at St. Patrick's, such as the eradication of all forms of corporal punishment, the setting up of a Student's Council and also a student's Parliament where elected students were allowed to make changes to the school rules, in keeping with the mission and motto of the school. He also contributed greatly in many areas to the school's development with the building up of the school's facilities such as a sports complex and a hostel. In addition, Brother Joseph formed The Patrician Society, where parents, teachers and old boys could come together for school discussions and programmes and also permitted the teaching of religions other than the Christian faith, such as Buddhism and Hinduism.

He remained Principal for eight years before retiring from this position in 1983. Subsequently, he stayed on to head the St. Patrick's Arts Centre in 1984, that later expanded to became the existing La Salle-SIA College of the Arts, focusing on developing and nurturing creativity in the visual and performing arts. He became a Singapore citizen in 1985. He retired as President Emeritus in 1997 but remained active in both the education and art circles. Some of his students eventually became well-known principals, including Rudy Mosbergen (Raffles Junior College), Eugene Wijeysingha (Temasek Junior College and RI) and Bernard Fong (Hwa Chong Junior College).

Brother Joseph was also a highly regarded sculptor, having created over 200 works (sculptures and paintings) in his lifetime, using a diverse range of materials such as wood, bronze, glass and metal. His sculptures are an ingenious blend of both the East and the West, centring on the themes of humanity and nature and are strongly influenced by Celtic mythology incorporating the human figure, symbol and cultural values from Southeast Asia. Many of his sculptures were created out of thousand-year-old oaks from peat bogs that were shipped to Singapore recovered during his bi-annual vacations in Ireland.

Brother Joseph died at the age of 79 as a result of a heart attack, while visiting his hometown on 27 August 2002.

 

Artwork
Adam and Eve,2000 - Bronze, 30 x 130 x 42cm. SOLD
Adam and Eve,2000 - Bronze, 30 x 130 x 42cm. SOLD