21st - 26th JULY, 2019



Welcome to the MacGill Summer School


For the past 39 years, the town of Glenties in County Donegal has hosted the MacGill Summer School which has found its inspiration in the life and works of the Navvy Poet, Patrick MacGill.  The School, which was  founded by Joe Mulholland and a local committee and directed by Joe for most of its existence, has attracted growing numbers of people from all walks of life to engage in public discussion of the urgent issues of the day, social, economic, political and environmental.   The list of past contributors to be found on the MacGill website reflects almost every domain of  public life in Ireland over the past four decades.

MacGill has fulfilled many roles, providing a ‘safe place’ for parties to the conflict in Northern Ireland to meet and exchange views, and  a platform for government ministers to enunciate their policies and be challenged forthrightly from the floor by citizens –and later in the bar if they were unhappy with the answers! Countless scholarly, authoritative presentations have been made on a broad range of subject-matter without ever being overly academic.  Every effort is made to encourage the participation of the public, including minimal rates of admission to this forum which has been described by The Irish Times as ‘a seminar worthy of Harvard, Yale or Oxbridge.’


In a crowded hall with on average up to 300 people, and beamed around the world on line, sessions of analysis and debate on subjects generally related to public policy  go on from mid morning  to late in the evening–the problems of our health service and possible solutions, reform of the public service and of our politics, homelessness and housing,  how trust in policing might be restored,  gender inequality, environmental degradation, how to avoid boom and bust economic cycles,  the decline of the Catholic church and religious practice and the pros and cons of multinational investment in Ireland – to name just some of the topics.  A constant theme has been the need for good governance and more planning to meet the growing requirements of our country into the future.  Diversity of opinion is welcomed and accessibility is the hallmark of  typical MacGill contributions.


Over the past decade in particular, the sweep of MaGill has widened to address developments in Europe and the wider world that impinge  on Ireland, one of the most open societies in the world, with sessions on risks to national security from international terrorism,  mass migration of distressed families, the invasion of privacy enabled by the internet and social media, the threats to democracy facilitated by the same technologies and the cataclysmic threat to life on this planet by pollution of the sea and global warming. The existential crisis created by Brexit has been extensively covered in recent years, as has the vital question of Ireland’s role in defence of  the future development of the EU.


True to the foundational inspiration of Patrick MacGill, the arts have been an integral element of the programme. Eminent writers like Seamus Heaney and Brian Friel have been staunch supporters of MacGill and their work has been  performed and recited there by leading actors.   Musicians, singers, photographers, painters and other artists have performed and exhibited during the week in Glenties.   Inclusion of the arts provides entertainment and serves  as a reminder that artists enlighten the darkest places and show the way forward for humanity.


We live in times of immense promise and great danger for Ireland  and the world and the mission of MacGill is to provide a forum where well-informed analysis of and debate on the burning issues of our time take place with as much participation and involvement of the general public as possible. In its lifetime, the MacGill School has dealt with a broad range of the challenges which confront us but rarely has there been such fear and foreboding that humanity is now facing into a period of great danger that could lead to disaster for the planet not only in terms of climate change but also of humanity itself.

We have cracked the genetic code but thousands of species are becoming extinct in our lifetime; we can produce enough food to feed everyone but millions die of starvation;  medical advances hold the cure to diseases that continue to ravage whole nations; extraordinary  wealth is created  for the few while untold numbers languish in dire poverty; we can communicate with anyone , anytime, anywhere  via the astonishing internet  but its abuse enables cyber-crime and  disruption of  democratic elections and real patriotism.  The glue that embraces diversity and cooperation and  the fundamental interdependency among nations is being eroded by a narrow, selfish form of nationalism that espouses  self-centred, fascistic, win-lose thinking that could lead to disaster for mankind.


It is no mean task for individuals, families and nations to successfully navigate these turbulent local and global waters.  For this life-long journey they need to be able to distinguish between facts and lies and to discern right from wrong, good from evil.

Until recent times the world seemed to be on a largely positive trajectory of expanding access to education, respect for human rights and appreciation of the brotherhood of mankind.  The liberation of nations from exploitative colonialism; the remarkable achievement of the creation of the European Union out of the carnage and devastation of two great wars and the assertion of women’s rights to equality all reflect this heartening  trend.

However, as we now face enormous challenges posed by the rejection of international cooperation and fraternity and a breakdown of trust, the gains that have been made appear to be in jeopardy by the threats to democracy itself across the globe.  In recent months, we have seen democracy challenged as never before on the streets of French cities.  The forces that have unleashed these and similar destructive movements have always been present but, crucially, they have cleverly harnessed the power of the internet and social media to amplify their message, bypassing traditional channels of communication  with  misleading sound bites and “alternative facts” that manipulate public opinion.

Responsible citizens in journalism and in other professions are framed as “enemies of the people”, and experts are dismissed as out-of-touch “elites”.


In this era of immense promise and great danger, in the battle between enlightenment and a return to darker ages when forces might be unleashed that could destroy our democratic institutions and our hard won freedoms of expression the mission of MacGill is:

To provide a forum for well-informed discussion about the burning issues of our time, involving face-to-face engagement between experts and people holding responsible positions in  society, with the ultimate purpose of achieving sustainable social, economic and environmental progress in a challenging, turbulent and uncertain world.

General Information

Find places to eat, beaches to visit, golf courses and other places of interest around Glenties….

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About Patrick MacGill

Patrick MacGill became known as the ‘Navvy Poet’ when a slim little volume of poetry which he had mostly written when working on the railways in Scotland and which he called ‘Gleanings from a Navvy’s Scrapbook’ came to the notice…

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Cultural Events

The School has profiled artists, musicians and writers from a wide range of disciplines. See what’s on this year…

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History & Achievements

The school has grown 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 range of social, economic and political ideas.

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An edited version of the MacGill proceedings was published every year up to 2011. And since then, the papers have been available in the archive section of this website. They are a significant source for postgraduate students in particular.

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Papers Delivered at MacGill Summer School


Speakers 2018

An overview of the speakers at the 2018 MacGill Summer School.
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Video Archive

Donegal County Council has partnered with MacGill Summer School to record and broadcast the proceedings live as internet webcasts and is making available in a video archive of all speakers since 2009.
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Webcasts Sunday 21st – Friday 26th July 2019

Webcasts of each session from the MacGill Summer School 2018 can be accessed through the Donegal County Council website.

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