Faces of Ireland


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Mary McGraw '17 | Galway, Ireland | Digital Marketing Manager, Galway International Arts Festival

Award-winning photographer Mary McGraw '17 serves as the digital marketing and media manager at Galway International Arts Festival, one of the leading cultural events in Ireland and Europe. 


How would you describe the connection between Notre Dame and Ireland? How are the two places of the same spirit and values?

I think Notre Dame and Ireland have a lot in common. Both communities are open and welcoming and do well to look after one another. There’s a sense of curiosity you get while studying at Notre Dame that I often see in the people here in Ireland and both communities do well to balance feelings of pride and humility. Just as you could confidently walk up to a stranger in one of Notre Dame’s student hubs and find connection, so too could you go into a pub in Ireland and strike up a meaningful conversation with someone sitting next to you.

In your current role, how do you see aspects of both communities present in your day-to-day life? 

I work in the arts industry here, which is strongly supported by local and national authorities. I think Ireland does a great job in understanding the importance of arts and culture in society and does well to foster artists, producers, makers, and creatives so they can make a living and pursue their passions. There’s a reason why this small island on the edge of Europe has produced so many international stars in music, theatre, entertainment, literature, visual arts, and so forth. My pursuit within the arts was first nurtured at Notre Dame within the Department of Art, Art History, and Design, working with professors like Martina Lopez and mentors like Denise Massa.

To be quite honest, I don't know how easy or difficult it would have been to pursue a similar creative career in the States as I’ve lived almost all of my post-ND life in Ireland, but I appreciate that here in Ireland there is a lot of publicly funded opportunities for artists and arts workers and there are fewer pressures to commodify and commercialize the arts so more artists are free to create art for art’s sake. Arts and culture play a key role in Irish communities and I feel fortunate being involved in this sector. I have been involved with a lot of exciting projects and events, especially in my home of Galway.

What drew you to build your life in Ireland? Do you have any other treasured moments or stories from your time there?

As a photographer and artist I became drawn to the breathtaking landscapes of Ireland, particularly the West of Ireland, after first visiting in 2015 through a Notre Dame summer study abroad program. It wasn’t long after that visit that I decided I would formulate my final BFA thesis to involve Irish communities, allowing me to come back and dive deeper into Irish culture and life in Connemara. I ended up doing a photo-ethnographic study on the Benedictine nuns at Kylemore Abbey for my thesis. Spending over three months living with and documenting the lives of these cloistered yet empowered women in the West of Ireland is one of my most treasured memories. Fast-forward to graduating Notre Dame in 2017, Notre Dame’s Dublin Global Gateway invited me to serve as campus minister for the upcoming academic year. After serving at Dublin’s Global Gateway, I then moved west to pursue a masters at University of Galway, during which I met my now-husband, Ruairi. He is from Inis Mór, the largest of the Aran Islands, and during the pandemic we were lucky enough to move to the island for a year to hide away and be closer to his family and friends. The Aran Islands are like a time capsule — seemingly untouched by decades of modernism; it’s a place where the Irish language, gaeilge, is alive and well and people of all ages still participate in many Irish traditions, like seaweed harvesting, Currach racing, Sean-nós singing, and many still mastering the art of building stone walls. These islands and the islanders hold a very special place in my heart.

Check out other alumni featured in our Faces of Ireland series:
Conal Fagan '21