MacGill Summer School 1981 – 2011

History and achievements:

The MacGill Summer School has been in existence for thirty one years.  It was founded in 1981 in Glenties in Co. Donegal to celebrate the memory of local writer, Patrick MacGill, whose books in the first decades of the twentieth century on the social conditions in Donegal, the plight of migrant workers in Britain and the horrors of the Great War in which he fought as a soldier of the London Irish Rifles are still being published.

The school has grown over three decades from very modest beginnings to being one of the most important fora in Ireland for the analysis of topics of national and international interest. It 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 parties, heads of businesses,  academics, economists, sociologists, church leaders, members of the judiciary and public representatives from Northern Ireland. The School has been successfully positioned as a “broad church” open to all points of view with easy access by the general public.  Audiences come from all over Ireland including Northern Ireland from a wide range of backgrounds and increasingly from abroad.  Extensive media coverage-radio, television and the press- means that the debates at the school reach a national and international audience and the live webcasting of the proceedings for the first time in 2010 in collaboration with Donegal County Council has resulted in their being made available to thousands of Irish people working abroad  and students of Irish affairs.

In many ways, the MacGill School is unique.  For one week every year, the compact Donegal village of Glenties becomes a major, non-partisan, centre of debate dominating Irish discourse as people from all walks of life and all shades of politics get together and discuss ways in which Ireland could be a better place.  Building a better Ireland is the recurrent theme of the MacGill School. One of the attractions of MacGill is that anyone, for a few euros, can walk in and listen to major public figures and ask questions and propose answers.  Hallmarks of the school are its complete impartiality, rigour and objectivity and the choice of contributors and chairpersons as well as the attention paid to the preparation of papers to be delivered at the school are testimony to this fact.

An additional feature of the MacGill School’s activities has been the inauguration in 2000 of the Annual John Hume Lecture as a tribute to the Nobel laureate and former leader of the SDLP and in recognition of his work over the past decades to create a framework for lasting peace in Ireland.  Last year the lecture was delivered by the deputy First Minister of the Northern Ireland Executive, Mr. Martin McGuinness MP MLA.


The publication of an edited version of the MacGill proceedings has been an important feature of the work of the school over the past decade and provide students of Irish contemporary affairs with an overview of key events on the island, North and South, at the beginning of the 21st century.  They are and will remain a significant source of material for postgraduate students in particular.  Last Year’s publication, REFORMING THE REPUBLIC, is still available.

Cultural Programme:

The School has also paid particular attention to culture. It has honoured artists and writers during their lifetime including Peadar O’Donnell, Derek Hill, T.P. Flanagan, Liam McCormick and, of course, the distinguished playwright, Brian Friel, much of whose work has been inspired by his close relationship with Donegal. In 2008, the week was given over to celebrating Friel’s life and work with talks, documentaries, readings and performances of his plays including Faith Healer, Making History and Translations.  Some events of the week were brought to the Irish Cultural Centre in Paris in the summer of 2009.

Poets such as Seamus Heaney, Paul Durcan, Matthew Sweeney and Michael D Higgins have given readings from their work.

Musicians such as John O’Conor have performed in Glenties as has the late mezzo-soprano, Bernadette Greevy.

Exhibitions have included: Patrick MacGill in the First World War, The Flight of the Earls and Antique Maps of Ireland

The Gate Theatre has presented Beckett in Glenties, the Abbey Theatre has performed Dancing At Lughnasa and the Manchester Library Theatre has performed Faith Healer

MacGill’s Contribution:

The principal contribution of the School has been in the area of public policy–ranging across economic policy, social policy and political and public service reform.  The debates do not attempt to achieve consensus around stated positions but rather to stimulate interest in ideas and proposals and to provide a basis for action by leadership groups and individuals. The impact is not limited to participants in the School. The event is intensively covered by the Irish media. Contributions are reported and commented upon in the media and debates often persist, with attribution to the School, in commentary and analysis in the subsequent weeks and months.  Observations about the impact of the School include:

“It seems as if for a week in July, public discourse leaves Leinster House and the media and re-locates to Glenties”
Letter to the Editor, Irish Times

“I’ve noticed that contributors, particularly politicians, avail of MacGill, to push out policy boats beyond previously settled positions”
Irish Independent

“This was a seminar worthy of Harvard, Yale or Oxbridge”
Irish Times



The Director of the MacGill School:


The director of the MacGill School is Dr Joe Mulholland who with a local committee founded the School in 1981.  Born in Donegal, he was educated there and then in the UK and France.  After several years teaching in France he joined Raidio Telefis Eireann(RTE) in 1970 as a trainee producer and went on to hold several senior positions in the organization including Editor of Current Affairs, Controller of Programmes, Director of News and Managing Director of Television.  He has been a regular contributor to the French media including the influential daily, Le Monde. He served as Chairman of the News Section of the European Broadcasting Union(EBU) 1993-7 and was Chairman of Radio Television Kosovo(RTK) 2001-2.  He is currently Chairman of the National College of Art & Design in Dublin.  He was named Donegal Person of the Year 2008-9.



St. Connell’s Church

St. Connell’s Church, Glenties was designed by the architect, the late Mr. Liam Mc Cormick, Derry and was officially opened on Sunday 19th May 1974 by the Bishop of Raphoe, the late Bishop Anthony Mac Feely. Mr. Mc Cormick has won several awards for the design of his churches and he got an award for this church too.

Surrounded by trees, the Church echoes a feeling of encloure, its high pitched slated roof enclosing the building almost to the ground on both sides. The tall gable ends are white rough-cast. Mr. Mc Cormick makes three strong statements in the design of the Church. 1. Design blending with the environment. 2. The Role of Nature. 3. The Importance of Baptism.

St. Connell’s Church reflects the meeting of the two glens; the Big Glen and the Wee Glen. Na Gleanntai(The Glens) from which the town gets it’s name. The Church has a strong natural light coming mainly from the roof window and the low level window overlooking the landscape area. As we enter this beautilful Church we cross over water and this will remind us of Baptism, the gateway to the Eucharist.

St. Connells Cultural and Heritage Museum

The heritage centre is named after St. Connell Caol who, in the 6th Century founded a monastic settlement on Inniskeel Island, north of Portnoo near Glenties. The museum includes prison cells of the late 19th century courthouse and has many artefacts pertaining to the famine in South West Donegal. The museum is open throughout the year and guides are available.

Read the History of St. Connells Cultural and Heritage Museum here

Tel: +353 (0)74 9551766

Fishing on the Gweebarra River

The Gweebarra is a 20-mile long stretch of spate river flowing from Lough Barra to Gweebarra Bay and includes 10 miles of estuarine water. The river runs through some beautiful scenery and is one of the most picturesque in the country.


The salmon and sea trout season runs from 1st April to 30th September inclusive. The Spring Salmon season runs from 1 April to 17 June. The Grilse Salmon fishing season runs from 18 June to 30 September.

Fishing in the Gweebarra

The Gweebarra has a good run of late spring fish at the end of April, with grilse running from the end of June and good-sized summer salmon running from August onwards. Sea trout are at their best from July and are usually taken from the estuary and the pools around the Doochary area. Other hot spots on the river are the famous Mayo pool at the confluence of the Cloghanagore River and the Fall’s pool. Any of the traditional Irish shrimp flies work well on the river, as does the popular flying C.


To book online go to the Donegal Angling Holidays website. Single-day and multi-day fishing is available on the Gweebarra for Spring Salmon and Grilse Fishing.

Bookings and in-season information are available from the Fishery Manager (based in Doochary) on +353 (0) 74 9546171 or +353 (0)87 9318235.

Off-season information is available from the Northern Regional Fisheries Board, Station Road, Ballyshannon, Co. Donegal. Tel. +353(0)71 9851435, Fax +353 (0)74 9851816, E-mail

Take a trip on the Fintown Railway

Welcome to Donegal’s only operational narrow gauge railway. Here, nestling deep in the heart of spectacular mountainous scenery steeped in tradition, myth and folklore, and running along the crystal clear waters of Loch Finn you are invited to relive those nostalgic days when Donegal had about 200 miles of narrow gauge railway operated by the County Donegal and Londonderry & Lough Swilly Railway Companies.

This unique journey is a three-mile return trip right along the shores of Loch Finn. The reopening on the 3rd June 1995 of this first section of the in town – Glenties railway restoration project commemorated the centenary of the original opening in 1895.

Tel +353 (0)74 9546280

Doon Fort

Lough Doon Ring Fort is located on a small island in Lough Doon off the Portnoo to Rosbeg Road. It is an impressive 4.8m high walled enclosure, covering the small island completely, traditionally built 1000BC. During the holiday season (summer) there are small boats available for hire to allow access to the island for a closer look. This ancient ruin is evidence that this area has been inhabited for many centuries. In recent years the gold Lunula (a fine piece of decorative jewellery), dating from 1600BC approx., was found in this area and is displayed in the National Museum of Ireland. A replica of this can be seen in the Local Dolmen Centre.

Portal Tomb

An exceptionally fine portal-tome or dolmen, prominent on the skyline 1/4 mile to the east of the main road, 4 miles north-north-west of Ardara. It well displays the classic features from which this type of monument derives its name. The matched portal stones and gracefully uptilted capstone (nearly 20 feet long and one of the largest in Ireland) oversailing the chamber entrance convey a sense of architectural awareness on the part of the builders and its streamlined profile has inspired numerous analogies; a bird, a fish, Concord, etc. depending on the imagination of the observer.

The tomb is substantially complete. A low sill-stone set between the 6 feet high portals closes off the chamber entrance. The lower end of the capstone does not rest directly on the back-stone as is usually the case, but is supported instead by a small intermediate stone whose function may have been to give increased height to the chamber. Fragments of undecorated Neolithic pottery were the only recorded finds.

A short distance west of this tomb is another similar construction but on a very much smaller scale. It is now partly collapsed. A modern field wall separates the two, which were evidently mounded over by the same east-facing cairn, traces of which remain.

Sheskinmore Nature Reserve

Sheskinmore is regarded as one of the most important Nature Reserves in Ireland. It encompasses an area of approximately 1,000 acres, and is situated near Kiltoorish, Rosbeg, Co. Donegal.

Sheskinmore is open to the public all year round, and offers families & nature enthusiasts all the beautiful wonders of nature only to be found in Ireland

Wildlife between 15 – 20 different types of butterflies can be seen throughout the year. Green & White Front Barnacle geese, & Canadian geese can be seen in the winter time, when in April they migrate to Greenland for the summer. Ducks & swans all year round host Sheskin More as their home. Falcons : Merlin & pereqine, breed in Dawros Bay & Sliabh a Toughe, and hunt in Sheskin More

Badgers, Foxes & otters all run wild here. The Chuff is regarded as our most important native bird. It looks quite similar to a crow, but has a red beak & red legs.

Sheskinmore has many splendid types of flora & fauna. Its is renowned especially for the many different types of Orchids that grow there, such as the Bee Orchid, Butterfly Orchid, Frog Orchid These are very unusual species, & Sheskin More is the only place they grow in the Northwest region.


From Glenties
Drive along the Glenties-Portnoo road for approx. 6 miles. Then drive towards Ardara for 2 miles until you reach a signpost for Rosbeg. Turn right and drive along this road until you reach the Kiltoorish Lake on the left hand side . The entrance to Sheskin More is opposite this lake.

From Ardara
Drive along the main Ardara-Portnooroad for approx. 4 miles. Turn left towards Rosbeg at signposted junction. 200metres along this road, take a look into the field on the right hand side, and you can see one of the very few mini dolmens in Ireland located there! Drive along this road until you reach the Kiltoorish Lake on the left hand side . The entrance to Sheskin More is opposite this lake.

From Portnoo
Drive towards Ardara for 2 miles until you reach a signpost for Rosbeg. Turn right and drive along this road until you reach the Kiltoorish Lake on the left hand side . The entrance to Sheskin More is opposite this lake.

Iniskeel Island

The Island of Inniskeel has a sacred interest in the present and the past with a long, if broken, history to commemorate its former greatness. It is still the seat of a must-frequented pilgrimage in honour of St. Connell, one of the most remarkable of Ireland’s early Saints. It contains his Church and his cell and in it repose his scared remains in the grave that had first closed over the body of his illustrious friend, St. Dallan.

There seems to be no ground for questioning the popular belief that St. Connell founded the buildings, which still remain. At the same time substantial parts were certainly rebuilt at a later period.

The year of St. Connell’s birth is not known with exactness. He died about 596. His name is forever linked with famous Cain Domnaigh, a law prohibiting servile works on Sunday. The prohibition was from Vespers on Saturday evening to Monday morning and should delight the heart of sabbatarian by its exacting observance, did it not in other respects unmistakably savour of Catholic practice. In the “Yellow Book of Lecan” the Cain is prefaced by a statement of its being brought from Rome by St. Connell, on an occasion of a pilgrimage made by him to the Eternal City. Our chroniclers make two notable statements in regard to it. They say it was written by the hand of God in Heaven and placed on the Altar of St. Peter, and secondly that it was brought from Rome by St. Connell. Now, however, one may be inclined to explain away either or both statements, there is no mistaking the avowal of respect they imply for Roman authority nor any serious reason for calling the pilgrimage itself into question. The Cain Domnaigh was never enacted by the states or councils of Erin. That it was believed to have been brought from Rome sufficed to spread its sway.

Dallan was born in Feallach Eatbach, which is taken to be Tullyhain in Cavan. Nothing that parental care could accomplish was left undone to perfect his education in scared and secular subjects. At an early age in his career he lost the use of his eyes. Notwithstanding this dismal failure he became the most eminent man of letters in Ireland. He was antiquarian, philosopher, rhetorician and poet all in one. He was the literary chief, the file laureat of Erin in his day. A saint’s life and a martyr’s death crown the glory of his fame. His best known works are the “Amhra Coluim Cille” or written panegyric on Columcille, a funeral oration on St. Senan, Bishop of Inniscattery, and a panegyric on St. Connell Coel. He was beheaded by pirates who plundered the island. His death occurred about 594. St. Dallan’s Feast occurs on the 29th January. The island is accessible on foot during low tide from Narin beach.

Walk the GAP Trail

Walk Details

This purpose built walking and cycling trail follows the old railway line which served a Bord na Mona turf extraction facility.

It crosses the Ownea River (and the Bluestack Waymarked Way at this point), passes through an area of forestry and
ends at the remote, but hauntingly beautiful, Lough McHugh.

Distance: Approximately 2.8 kms
Time: 1 hours
Terrain: Purpose built path suitable for walking and cycling.
Grading: Easy and level for the whole route.

Getting There

The car park at the start of the walk lies approximately midway between Ardara and Glenties on the N56

Download the GAP Trail Map Here