MacGill Summer School: Where the rulers and ruled fall out and make up again and again
Broadcaster Seán O’Rourke brings down the curtain on a lively final session
Anne McCole and Annie Dwyer enjoying an ice cream at the opening of the Patrick MacGill Summer School in Glenties, Co Donegal, last night. Photograph: Declan Doherty
RTÉ broadcaster Seán O’Rourke summed it up well. Bringing down the curtain on a lively MacGill session examining yet more of the Republic’s failures, he offered badly needed perspective on the times we live in.
Referring to an earlier trip to Glenties in the 1980s, he recalled an Ireland torn by the Troubles, pessimism, corruption and not a little poverty. The Ireland of today was far from perfect, he said, but it was at peace and, despite everything, not without hope.
The summer school was, up to that point, something of a crisis-heavy moan-fest. It took someone with O’Rourke’s quiet authority and cogency to point out that.
If indeed the Republic has been a spectacular failure, as speakers claimed, then it’s a failure that many citizens elsewhere on earth would be happy with.
MacGill enables the Leinster House bubble, its TDs, ministers, flunkies, reporters and others, to relocate to Donegal for a week where they continue more or less as normal.
There, in the company of academics, authors, diplomats and dozens of locals they discuss the nation. Politicians (like journalists) need to go on retreat, as this is probably as close as they get.
The Republic under discussion has much wrong with it. So does the MacGill Summer School. But Ireland, for all the woes, remains wonderful. So, too, is MacGill.
There are too few under-50s in the audience and on the platform. Establishment males dominate and some just use it as a handy platform. More iconoclasts and radicals would help. The church features in debate, yet there are no priests. Some speeches are too long and the Q&A sessions too short and can be wildly unpredictable.
Wednesday night’s session on justice and equality heard Colm O’Gorman of Amnesty International discuss how the vision of a democratic republic was corrupted by civil war, poverty and ineptitude. He pleaded for citizens to see tax as a civic asset and not as a personal bill they are reluctant to pay. However, the big-picture debate ended up dominated by questions from the floor about VAT, property tax and red diesel.
Emily O’Reilly’s compelling John Hume Lecture was stark in its portrayal of the faults in Irish public life. It unwittingly set the tone for brutal self-criticism, broken only by the needed wit of young TD Eoghan Murphy, leading to the conclusion that Ireland can be awful.
Upside and downs
The week can get magnificently wacky. There is an organised morning swim in the Atlantic and a forest park walk. The heat and humidity in the packed hall is dire. There aren’t enough power sockets and the wifi is hopeless. Punctuality remains an aspiration. But for all that, MacGill is a week like no other, where the rulers and the ruled mingle, argue, fall out, make up again and again.