For the last three decades the MacGill Summer School has dealt with social, economic and cultural aspects of life in contemporary Ireland and, in particular, has reflected the transition of the economy from failure and hardship to extraordinary success. In the 2006 Summer School the emphasis has shifted to society in Ireland here and now and on what is happening to it. More and more often one hears talk about greed and avarice, the vulgar flaunting of huge personal wealth, selfishness and loss of the community spirit that was once such a characteristic of both urban and rural life in Ireland. Life in Ireland, with all our affluence, perhaps because of it, appears to have become raw and violent and worrying, and not only in the larger urban centres. There is still much to cherish in Ireland not least of which are the energy, dynamism and beauty of our traditional music, our Gaelic games and the extraordinary wealth and vitality of our literary and artistic culture and tradition. These things, however, cannot be taken for granted in a society where financial success and personal wealth seem to be the new religion leaving us somewhat valueless and rudderless.
And, without decrying the magnificent achievements of those who have contributed to the transformation of Ireland in our lifetimes, it is definitely time for stocktaking and for a little bit of reflection on our culture and identity and on the kind of society we ideally would like and deserve to have. In "The Soul of Ireland", 30 leading Irish thinkers, including John Lonergan, Sr Stanislaus Kennedy, Michael McDowell, Mary Clancy, Trevor Sargent, Dr Diarmuid Martin, Michael Cronin, Robert Ballagh, John Waters, Mary Cloake, Martin McGuinness, Mary Finan and Jim Higgins, consider a wide variety of issues, including "Coping with Affluence", "Cherishing All the Children Equally", "The Death Throes of the Irish Language?", "Securalisation and the Loss of Religious Identity", "the Irish Imagination" and "Reconciling Orange and Green". The book will be must reading for anyone concerned about the state of contemporary Ireland.