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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.




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