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MacGill Summer School & Arts Week

16th – 22nd July 2016, Glenties

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The MacGill Summer School has been in existence for thirty two years and in that time has grown from modest beginnings to being one of the most important fora in Ireland for the analysis of topics of national interest. 

Patrick MacGill

Founded by Dr Joe Mulholland and a local committee in Glenties to celebrate the memory of local writer, Patrick MacGill, some of whose books became bestsellers in Britain in the first decades of the 20th century, the School has consistently been a source of innovative and fresh thinking on a whole range of social, economic and political ideas.

It brings together every July, government ministers, members of the opposition, heads of industry, trade union leaders, economists, sociologists, church leaders, members of the judiciary as well as public representatives from Northern Ireland.  For a week in July, the small village of Glenties becomes a major, non-partisan centre of debate to which the public can gain access for a few Euros.

The MacGill Summer School, now in its 36th year, will kick off in Glenties on Saturday, July 16th and run to Saturday, July 23rd with what promises to be an exceptionally interesting programme coming as it does months after an intriguing general election and commemorations of the 1916 rebellion. A new government will be in place but comprised of which parties and, more importantly, what policies, priorities and values? Reflections on 1916 and on the successes and failures since then will also bring a keen edge to the deliberations at this year’s School.

2016 Programme of Events

MacGill Summer School 2016 Programme

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The Saturday start and finish is to allow us, with more ease, to pay homage to our friend and great playwright, Brian Friel, who, alas, has departed from us since our last MacGill in 2015. Brian always took a keen interest in the proceedings of the School and with his wife, Anne, attended every opening night for many years and loved getting back to Glenties-his Ballybeg where he now reposes.

As to the other agenda of MacGill, our economy has made a spectacular recovery with all the positive developments that flow from this and specifically a dramatic reduction in unemployment. The present government has to be congratulated on the major role it has played in bringing this about. There are disturbing signs, though, that such is the fickleness and short-termism in the thinking and expectations of at least part of the electorate that political parties, no matter how well-intentioned, feel pressurised to make promises that eventually could put at risk what has been achieved so far. A strategy of “putting money in people’s pockets” with increases of salaries and welfare allowances and tax reductions has to square with a high national debt and chronic deficiencies in our services-health, housing, water to name but a few. And we have to plan for the future of this country with a growing population, a larger ageing population, growing needs for more and better infrastructure and rural areas in continuing decline.

The 2016 School, against a background of growing uncertainty in Europe and throughout the world, will try and analyse how Ireland will look by 2026 and what plans now need to be put in place to meet the challenges ahead. Abroad, and not very far from us, we have international terrorism and death on the streets of European capitals and a consequent level of security not seen in our lifetimes. And we have a refugee crisis, the end results of which we cannot yet imagine. And, of course, we may be either facing into the prospect of the withdrawal of Britain, including Northern Ireland, from the European Union or coping with the fallout arising from it. And we have climate change – no longer the invention of overzealous environmentalists but now generally accepted to be a serious threat to the planet and man’s existence on it. With widespread flooding and damaging storms in parts of the country, we can no longer fudge the hard choices that need to be made regarding fossil fuels, agricultural production and our everyday lifestyles.

At the core of our deliberations will be, once again, the nature and peculiarity of our political system and its capacity to provide leadership, vision and good governance. Clientelism and opportunistic short-termism are wired into it and perhaps ironically are ultimately responsible for the lack of respect for politics and politicians which is shown repeatedly in polls and are at the root of some of the most serious problems facing Irish society. But reform keeps dropping slow and, in any case, it does not appear to be a priority for the electorate, a substantial section of whom appear to be satisfied with ill informed criticism and cynicism. Supposedly, then, it will be business as usual after the general election but for how long and at what cost?

As the eminent political scientist, Francis Fukuyama says: The very stability of institutions is also the source of political decay. We must adapt our institutions to present and future expectations and, in particular, make them accountable, transparent and effective and with serving the public as their principal priority.

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