Lives Remembered

Sheila McClean's vibrant personality and life matched her art

Sheila McClean exhibited in Derry's Gordon Gallery and the Cavehill Gallery in Belfast and was a member of the Royal Ulster Academy

Sheila McClean was born during a thunderstorm above the credit union in Moville, Co Donegal in August 1932.

And the life and art of this vibrant, energetic woman would retain much of that drama in a story as richly textured as her landscape paintings.

She would have been 84 this month - the same age her mother, grandmother and great-great grandmother all lived to.

Her parents, Dan and Cecelia McGuinness, were both from Moville but lived in Philip Street in Derry and it was there Sheila grew up.

She was the eldest of six girls and two boys, all of passionate about art, music and Irish dancing, and her talent was immediately apparent during her schooldays at Thornhill College.

Sheila turned down more generous grants for Queen's University and St Mary's to take a place at Belfast's College of Art, the first person from Derry to get a grant to study there.

She was in the same class as Basil Blackshaw and her first commission after graduating was to paint the Stations of the Cross at St Pius X Church in Moville.

She opened a studio on Derry's Strand Road and taught art for more than a decade at St Brecan's school in the Waterside, as well as short periods at St Joseph's, North West college and Thornhill, where students included her youngest sister Caroline.

However, Moville would again play a key part in her life when she attended a dance one night at St Eugene's Hall.

Young doctor Raymond McClean had just walked in when he spotted Sheila, said to his friend "That's my girl" and took her by the arm and told her "I'm going to marry you".

They did marry and lived in Aldergrove for a while after Raymond joined the RAF when he couldn't get work as a GP. He was stationed in the Middle East when their first child Sheila was born, but they soon moved back to Derry.

Both would be involved in the civil rights movement - Sheila was responsible for the oak leaf design of the movement's badge - and their home had an open door for people in need during the tumultuous years of of the early Troubles.

She also found herself in the role of mayoress of Derry when Raymond became the city's first Catholic first citizen in 1972, the same year they had a son, Sean.

Passionate and stylish, she always had a viewpoint but was also a listener - she became a skilled counseller and friends would always confide in her.

Sheila gave up teaching around 1980 to paint full time, a period she described as the happiest of her life.

With her children in school, she would pack the car with paints and paper and head for Donegal to paint its seas and mountains, capturing their many moods in different weathers.

She exhibited in Derry's Gordon Gallery and the Cavehill Gallery in Belfast and was a member of the Royal Ulster Academy.

“Painting and the use of paint as a means of expression is my supreme interest,” she said.

Belfast painter Joe McWilliams described her as “the Greta Garbo of Ulster art... because her work was seldom seen but much sought after”.

Liz Baird said: “With her bold strokes, moody colours and wonderful light, she

captures the essence of the Irish boglands and their romantic wilderness.”

Sheila was still painting just days before she entered hospice care seven weeks ago, in her studio built in her back garden at Aberfoyle Crescent.

She died aged 83 on August 5 and was buried after funeral Mass in St Brigid's Church, Carnhill.

Her husband predeceased by her in 2011 and she is survived by her children Sheila and Sean.

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Lives Remembered