A Deep Well of Want: Photographs and Archives of McGahern Country - A New Exhibition with photographs by TU Dublin’s Paul Butler

Published: 17 Apr, 2024

This new exhibition of photographs by TU Dublin’s Paul Butler documents the landscape and passing rural life of Co. Leitrim and surrounding areas – the hinterland of writer John McGahern. Accompanied by archives and literary manuscripts from the John McGahern Archive, held at the University of Galway Library, curated by Dr Barry Houlihan, this exhibition presents a visual and documentary journey through McGahern Country – to the sites, places, words, and ideas that formed a wellspring for the literary imagination of John McGahern.

Opening as part of Cúirt Festival of Literature, the exhibition represents the largest display of manuscripts and materials from the McGahern archive. Combined with the beautifully captured and evocative photographs by Paul Butler, the exhibition is a unique opportunity to explore the visual and written landscapes of McGahern and of Co. Leitrim.

Drawing on Butler’s recently published photo-memoir book, A Deep Well of Want: Visualising the World of John McGahern (Peter Lang Press, 2023), the images and archives bring the viewer and the reader into a unique visualisation of the world of McGahern Country through words, photographs, manuscripts, and documents. Traumatic events in the lives of both McGahern and Butler shaped their paths, creating a want to write in McGahern and a want to create imagery in Butler. Butler explores the difficult and complex childhood that the two shared, and through a series of beautiful images that he himself has created in McGahern’s own part of Ireland.

The John McGahern archive at University of Galway Library consists of over fifty boxes of literary papers, drafts, manuscripts, letters, and photographs documenting the life and writing of one of Ireland’s most revered writers.

Date: Wednesday, 24 April 2024

Time: 4pm-5pm

Venue: Room G10, Hardiman Building, University of Galway

Q and A discussion with the curators, moderated by Professor Tom Inglis (McGahern Barracks Museum)

Note on the Curators:

Paul Butler is a documentary photographer who lives with his family in Farnocht, County Leitrim. Documenting the ordinary and exploring the northwest of Ireland is his passion and he has held various photographic exhibitions and presented papers, particularly around the theme ‘sense of place’. A former graduate of Technical Photography, he also holds a Master of Arts by Research.

Dr. Barry Houlihan is an archivist at University of Galway Library. He has recently worked on cataloguing over 1,500 letters, photographs, and documents as part of the John McGahern archive. He has worked on various literary, theatre, and political archives and exhibitions over recent years and researches and publishes on Irish archives and heritage. His most recent book is Theatre and Archival Memory: Irish Drama and Marginalised History 1951 – 1977.