CHRISTIANITY 

Don’t shy away because this blog is about religion, and specifically about Christianity. If you are a Christian be assured that it will not be an attack on your spirituality. I have enough curiosity left to become agitated when good scientists, even some great ones, discard some of their valuable time trying to prove or disprove the unprovable, to wit, the existence of God. Presumably it is religious dogma that drives them to such windmill chasing but a belief in God is a valid and reasonable position. Very few Christians believe that our solar system is earth centric or that the earth is six or seven thousand years old.

So, imagining ourselves to be devout Christians, we believe certain truths to be the basis of our faith: that Christ was the Son of God; that he became human and died a dreadful death to redeem us; that he resurrected on the third day after death; and that while he was alive he preached a message telling us how to live a decent life so that we could be assured of being saved.

Assuming all of this to be true, such events are beyond any phenomena that we know of, leaving even Big Bang and Quantum Mechanics as minor puzzles. By its very nature such an event cannot have a human history. But that supposed history is one of the reasons that we Christians are told to study, learn and obey the Old Testament. Yet, when Jesus came to redeem us, at such a terrible cost to himself, we already had the teachings of the Bible and by themselves they were patently not enough to save us.

The second reason justifying the study of the Old Testament is because of the royal descent of Jesus. Mary, His mother, is identified as a direct descendant of King David, the great Jewish King of Israel. However, Mary arrived some two thousand years after David (80 plus generations) and, as you know, your direct ancestors double each generation i.e. two parents, four grandparents and so on. This means that everybody in the Middle East, in Mary’s time, was a direct descendant of David many times over. The most extraordinary example of this misunderstanding of simple arithmetic came from the Bishop of Paris when, during the internment of Napoleon on Elba, he managed to include in his sermon to the aristocratic congregation in Notre Dame the immortal sentence that ‘Not only was Jesus Christ the Son of God but, equally, He came from an excellent family’.

The third, highly suspect, reason offered for such studies of the Old Testament is the use of the oxymoron of Judeo — Christian Civilisation, which manages to suggest that both histories are somewhat superior and joined at the hip. This has the advantage of allowing us to support the current irascible government in Israel whilst conveniently forgetting our extraordinarily horrendous treatment of Jews during the entire Christian Era.

As there does not seem to be a valid reason why we as Christians should be paying so much attention to the Old Testament, the suspicion must be that it is for the purpose of control. As a testament it is as exciting as a violent thriller. Blood and gore in abundance, a chosen people, famine, plague and fire heaped upon nations, concubines, lions, people turned into pillars of salt, and overseeing it all, a wrathful God shouting from the heavens. Much more colorful than the gentle stories and admonitions of the Saviour of the New Testament. There is even evidence that the suspicion of control is valid. When William Tyndall, in Henry VIII’s time, was rash enough to translate the New Testament into English he was hung and burnt for having the gall to mke Christ’s message available to those who had no Latin. Reducing control of His message was, indubitably, a Capital crime!

When I was a young Catholic, and an altar boy to boot, we had religious instruction six days a week and then Mass on Sundays with further lessons. Added to this were Rosaries, Novenas, Benedictions, parades and Holy Days. It seemed as though the world was fueled by religion. Our Christian Doctrine classes were heavily weighted in favor of the Old Testament, particularly the Ten Commandments and even the study of these was hopelessly biased in favor of the Fifth, ‘Thou Shalt Not Kill’ and the Sixth, ‘Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery’.

The Fifth was not much trouble, although we were taught which minor variations of it, such as intentionally causing injury, were a sin. Most of our studies relating to it were Jesuitical excuses for just wars. This was despite the fact that most wars were driven by imperialism, brute nationalism, racism or just greed. They never did explain how, despite the clarity of the Commandment, legal executions were acceptable. In my (innocent) childhood neither abortion, prostitutes nor child abuse were believed to exist in Ireland, and so were not included in any discussion.

The Sixth however was the bane of our lives. Entire libraries could have been filled with the innumerable ways it could be broken: improper thoughts, lecherous behavior, unapproved company of the opposite sex, masturbation and on and on and on. Anything could be included under the heading of an ‘Occasion of Sin’.

In those teenage years of living with tyrannical hormones, confession was difficult. I used to confess my love for Doris Day. That seemed to meet the requirements of each confessor although that particular love was as pure as a mountain spring. Mostly though, it avoided the need to list the occasions of sin that dogged every minute of life; from the girl three doors down, to the salacious curves of some highly improper trees!

I once had the privilege of listening to a well known actor describing her experience of confession as an Irish schoolgirl. Her most chillingly funny story went something like this:
“Bless me father for I have sinned”.
“What do you want to confess, my child?”
“I was courting father”
Any damage done”.
“Yes father “.
“Above or below the waist”.
“Ooh, above only father”
He gave her penance and absolution but then instead of closing the privacy flap, he leaned forward to the grill and whispered to her, “tell your father I’ll be over for bridge later”.

The New Testament does not really worry about such childish issues, so it is easy to see why the Old Testament was needed for control. Jesus himself reduced all rules to just two Great Commandments, the essence of which can be expressed as: Love the Lord thy God and love thy neighbour. It remains difficult to believe that they were actual commandments, they seem much more like advice.

The first of these commandments is somewhat difficult but it can be interpreted as Jesus simply advising us that a God exists. He did not specify a Jewish, Christian or any other particular God; He just said thy God. That can be read in many different, positive ways. For a nonbeliever it is perfectly rational to accept it as advice to put your soul, your love and honesty into your passion, whether that passion is science or the humanities, from your love of your own garden to the global environment or the entire cosmos itself.

The second can be recognised as the perfect guide to the path of our civilisation. He did not say love thy white, black, female, male, Samaritan or Jewish, rich or poor neighbour. You cannot love your neighbour by treating them unfairly, killing them for a little more power or land or failing to recognise their individual gender or sexual orientation. Nor can you deny them the medical attention they need nor the quality of education they ought to have just because they have no money. Your neighbour is the entirety of humankind, good or bad. Love in this context is not to be taken as our current understanding of human romance, but instead as a lack of hatred and at least an attempt to understand your neighbour’s history and difficulties. Finally, your best effort to forgive. Seemingly simple, it is excruciatingly difficult to follow such advice, yet the right thing to do. It means that as a conservative Christian you may detest the act of abortion but must empathise with the person who performs it. Alternatively, if you are a liberal, you may loathe the deeds of a Trump or a Johnson and even those who, despite knowing exactly what both of them are, continue to enable them for their own nefarious purpose, but you must still empathise with all of them. Ah well! He never said it would be easy.

The Christian faith is similar to all other creeds in that it is divided into thousands of different sects, each one insisting that their particular view of it all is the one true faith. Too often the separations are driven by the Old Testament. But for Christians, it is completely illogical to rely on pre-Christian texts to support that faith, however interesting and wise those texts are. Instead Christians should concentrate on the gentle and loving message of the New Testament. Put energy and truth into your passion and love thy neighbour! Give it socks while you’re at it!

Choose Your Own Normal

I usually don’t hate it so much when Hannah is right. Was it really just two weeks ago that the car driving in front of her slowed down and threw a heavily pregnant terrier on the road and into our lives? Yep. And after calling to inform me about the newest member to join our crew, her next comment was about the fact that Pixie and her soon-to-be-born puppies would be a great distraction for the girls when the country was on lockdown. So I will begin my four part apology for calling her a “drama queen”, by asking how the hell do you so casually predict the most unprecedented state of play in a generation? Practical mothers. Where would we be without you?

So, she was right and the “new normal” has been changing by the day. Last Monday, I was worried that the band I had put together was slightly under-rehearsed for the belated birthday party I was throwing for myself on Saturday. By Wednesday, the anxiety levels I was feeling for having people gather in my name was making me nauseous. Then the schools closed, Italy went into lockdown with soldiers on the streets, Canadian Parliament was shut down, and it became apparent that maybe my party wasn’t that big of a deal, all things considered. So, I sent out a text informing everyone that the party was off, and was barraged by replies of relief that hard decisions didn’t need to be made.
A few people decided to ignore the directive they were given and came anyway. They knew we weren’t going anywhere. There were ten of us spaced evenly around the library. Everyone had their own glass identifiable by different coloured loom-bands, stolen from my children. There was no physical contact. No one dared cough. And constant trips to the toilets. No, not to do cocaine like in the eighties, but to wash hands. You gotta be on your game at a lockdown party.

But it was brilliant. Songs were sung, stories told and everyone soaked up as much fun and happiness from those around them as they could, until the next time…

Yesterday, we laid off all of our staff and signed on the dole. At least that means that Hannah and I will get a raise. All of these quickly moving facts were unimaginable when we met Pixie two weeks ago. Yet here we are, busily corresponding with guests to confirm cancellations, with suppliers to work out some kind of arrangement amidst all this uncertainty, and trying to find ways to keep us busy in the approaching silence. I must admit, puppies are a brilliant option. Right again Hannah.

Today is St. Patrick’s Day and today’s “normal” saw myself, Hannah and the girls form our own parade on the driveway, brandishing one homemade Irish flag, a tin whistle and a ukulele, playing The Soldier’s Song on repeat. At least it was raining. That was the same as every year.

And so, as the world holds its’ breath and waits for this madness to pass, I’d like to share with you some thoughts my sister sent to our family.
“Be kinder than you think you need to be, mare patient than you think you need to be, and even more cheerful than you think you need to be. Every single person’s under a kind of strain we’ve never experienced before. We need to meet this – and each other – with so much love and as much humour as we can.

Love to you all.

Malign Influence

I am not normally tempted to write about current politics; they are too immediate, too transient and I am too passionate about them. But the two life threatening crises facing us at the moment, Covid 19 and climate change, qualify, especially when combined as civilisational events and should not be neglected. There is a third crisis - the widespread abandonment of truth and expertise - which exacerbates the difficulties in the search for solutions to the first two. This blog is in reality an aide memoire for grandchildren to see how some of us were thinking whilst living through them.

The world is changing before our very eyes and no matter how much we hope and pretend otherwise it will never again be the one that we imagined as normal, just a few short months ago. This change does not mean that we will lose the joys that are the essence of our humanity: our kissing and hugging of loved ones, our love of company, our celebrations, and young people gathering in large numbers for whatever reason to express their very joie de vivre. We are clever enough and passionate enough to find a response that will allow all of that to return. Because of the growing acceptance that climate change and pollution are existential threats we are, with the necessary will, capable of reversing even those threats. What will collapse however is the overconfident path that our elites have laid out for the twenty first century, namely eternal economic growth, reduced taxes, obscene consumption and wealth disparity. In our present dire circumstances the fault lines in such self serving plans are wholly destructive. With the pandemic itself, those who want to return to the status quo ante come replete with incredibly comprehensive plans to achieve their ambitions but forget, as always, that the devil is in the detail. How do we deal with those politicians and their enablers who failed us when they were most needed? How do we put the ever more obvious and odious genie of inequality back in its bottle and what will we dream up to assuage the millions who have had the time to realise that their lives before lockdown were a puny substitute for their real hopes? How many will be shocked when it becomes obvious that they are being exploited as pack animals and that those who exploit them have no intention of voluntarily sharing even a scrap of the world’s wealth with them?

Epoch changes are, luckily, not that common, but they all have things in common. The French Revolution happened because of the relentless and blind arrogance of the nobility based on the risible idea of genetic superiority. Our own epochal change will be driven by a natural catastrophe highlighting the incredible arrogance of many of those with more money than most. A quarter of a century after the Revolution, with Napoleon defeated, the Ancient Regime imagined that things could revert immediately to the order in place before the Revolution. They did not realise, even then, that the system that had been replaced was one bereft of decency and, most definitely, not one that ordinary people would allow to be resuscitated. Despite the enormous trauma inflicted on humans by the current pandemic, our elites, including most of our politicians, expect a speedy return to the supposedly normal - a normal that was also bereft of decency.

The two changes of epoch that we are most familiar with are both World Wars. The first driven by rampant nationalism and feelings of superiority on all sides. Does that sound familiar? The principal effects, besides the appalling carnage, were a reduction in the belief of the wisdom of ruling classes and the refusal of women to placidly return to their male ordained ‘proper’ roles.

The second War has even more lessons for our present dilemma. It was again driven by nationalism, though this time with the added evil of rabid antisemitism. Most pertinent to our current situation is that the prime instigator was, in many ways, quite insane and to facilitate his complete grasp of power required a new outrageous level of propaganda: lies and falsehoods in simple language.

Roosevelt and Churchill led the Democratic World during the War and both were intelligent and relatively sane and effective. So, what sort of team do we have to lead us out of our own interesting times?. An extraordinary one by any standards. Even limiting it to the players who think of themselves as democrats we have: Putin, Bolsonaro, Modi, Obrador, Erdogan, Orban, Johnson and others, all led by their inimitable captain, Donald Trump (he is not chosen for his skill but because he has more money and power). Look closely at them and you will undoubtedly decide that the world is in good hands! Is it any wonder that in fiction clowns are often portrayed as fundamentally evil.

For Trump to create his own bananarama world he must have a united band of loyal supporters, usually referred to as his base. His particular base is a quite outlandish coalition of disparate and contradictory elements. The majority consists of ordinary decent people who know that they are left out of all the loops of a fast changing world and who, in general, think that Civilisation is moving backwards; that all decency is failing. They support Trump in the hope that he is so different that he may return the country to what they think it used to be, never comprehending that, except for their vote, he has no interest whatsoever in them or their problems. His promise to them of clearing the swamp is not helping when his method is to transform it into a fetid cesspit. The rest of his band are a peculiarly zany coalition consisting of racists, chauvinists, jingoistic nationalists, gun cowards, anti-vaxers, extreme libertarians, the greedy and, perhaps most surprisingly, fundamentalist Christians who have distilled the entire message of Christ into the stopping of all abortion.

Holding such a coalition together is a Herculean task and brings us the third, mostly unrecognised pandemic: the scourge of lies and untruth. A democratic society cannot function if the level of this mind bending disease is permitted at its current levels. It grants equality between untruth, gossip, rumor, superstition and slander to truth, facts, evidence, informed opinion and even Science. That grant of equality renders every opinion more or less meaningless. There is an unscrupulous malign influence deeply involved in this purposeful evil. In America it is Fox News. The rest of the right wing echo chamber are not nearly so damaging. They do what they do, quite properly, because of their openly stated beliefs, but Fox disseminates untruth and falsehoods while claiming to be an unbiased news station. It labels itself with logos such as ‘We Report You Decide’, - ‘Most Watched Most Trusted’,. ‘- Fair And Balanced’, - and their most recent ‘Real News Real Honest Opinion’. With that one they encapsulate their method of taking their own most egregious fault, false witness, and, with bladder bursting gall, foist it on all of the normal media: Fake News. Goebbels would have been proud of them. The effect is to ensure that nothing can get through to Trump loyalists — however despicable or incompetent his acts or however much evidence there is of his dishonor, — it can be dismissed as Fake News. It is extraordinary that the public face of the corporation - the television anchors — can, night after night, preen themselves with deep sincerity but never realise that pimping for untruth is even more unsavory than regular pimping.

If you think that exaggerates the power of the Murdock empire then take a look at English politics where, because he dislikes the E-U’s interference in his corporate ambitions, he has set out to destroy the entire European concept. To achieve this he employs his overarching control of the print media in England and has, for decades, used that power to drip feed poisonous nationalism, racism, xenophobia and lies about immigrants, refugees and Europe itself into the English political consciousness. The end result has been to get a perfectly sane race (albeit somewhat arrogant because of a supposedly glorious history) to vote to secede from the European Union. He has bravely led this bold, flag waving charge, forward to the past. Brexit, as it is called, has no known advantage for Britain, neither social, cultural, economic nor scientific. It is telling that the two parts of the British Union, where Murdock’s writ does not run so overwhelmingly, voted decisively against Brexit. Ironically, this was not the outcome he or those who currently pass as conservatives in England wanted. Both assumed that when an entity as large and influential as Britain left others would follow suit. The opposite has happened; Europe’s union has actually become stronger whilst the British one has weakened.

Covid 19 and climate change are world changing events which we need to solve very quickly, but which also present an opportunity for positive and transformative changes to society. However, this is only possible if we address the third crisis: the abandonment of truth and expertise in the protection of powerful interests.

Democracy cannot function properly if reality is constantly ripped asunder by falsehoods, superstition and propaganda. Untruth is anathema to any successful Democracy. In three of our major democracies, America, England and Australia, the Murdoch empire, News Corp - including Fox - is the leading protagonist of making truth malleable. We must weaken its power to mislead and perhaps the only way to do this is to publicise relentlessly the names of their advertisers. This would allow the general public to decide what they, as individuals, can do to help.

Even though there is general consensus about what we are trying to do to overcome Covid 19, the barriers raised to our success come from the usual sources; those who ignore all expertise and insist that it is nothing more than a minor issue or, alternatively, that it is already over. Nor should we forget those who are more brutal, but perhaps more honest, who would persuade us that lives sacrificed are unimportant compared to reopening the economy! When the pandemic is controlled we will have moved to a very different societal normal. Because of the exigencies of the current crisis too much of the nature of our existing order is being highlighted to those who are neglected by that order. They will not accept the old norms whoever tells them that they must. If you cannot yet sense the coming storm, adjust your antenna. We know what despots do in such circumstances, but in a democracy, to avoid chaos or even violence, we need truth more than anything else. It is time to stop accepting anything less.

No fine words will reduce the status of the climate change crisis as an existential threat for life on earth. Yet those who continue to dismiss that threat as minor are truly a malignant influence, driven by blind greed to ignore and lie about the horrible danger to the world, even to the lives of their own children and grandchildren.

The challenges facing us are enormous and immediate. How we respond will be admired, or roundly damned, by our immediate successors.

Bubble Breaks for Groups – 10 of the Best, Georgina Campbell’s Ireland, May 2020

As travel restrictions ease this summer we’re all dying to get away for a break and need something to look forward to, but we also need to feel safe – so, while all hosts will take special care to ensure that guests feel comfortable with their arrangements this year, those destinations that can cater separately for families and other ‘bubble’ groups offer the opportunity of a particularly relaxing stay...

Here are just a few especially appealing options to tempt you… Most plan to re-open on 20th July but dates and services may change, so do check regularly.

Roundwood House, Co. Laois

Secluded in mature woodland, at the foot of the Slieve Bloom Mountains, this unspoilt 18th-century house is an absolute gem and a sense of history and an appreciation of genuine hospitality (and good food) are all that is needed to make the most of a stay at this magical property. Restored by Frank and Rosemarie Kennan over many years, it is now run with equal dedication and charm by their daughter Hannah and her husband Paddy Flynn. Just don’t expect television or techie devices here: despite (or perhaps because of) Frank’s work ‘before Roundwood’ this is the place for a digital detox – and there’s an absolutely magnificent library in a converted coach house, which is perfect for quiet relaxation but it can also be set up for a drinks reception. The house is available for groups / private parties and the ten lovely en-suite rooms can accommodate up to 20 – but they also have two charming self catering cottages each sleeping two. Roundwood is a one-off and the area is a treat to explore.

https://www.ireland-guide.com/ten-of-the-best/bubble-breaks-for-groups---10-of-the-best.14098.html

The Irish Examiner, May 9 2020

Letters to the Editor: What is stopping us removing the insecurity of those living in rented homes?

It would appear that the only group that must be protected from all financial pain during this emergency are domestic landlords. Admittedly the government has decreed that there will be no evictions or rent increases on a temporary basis. Really! How radical a solution is that?

The government then adds enormously to the social welfare bill, not to help people survive, but solely to enable them to pay their rents. Nor is there any mention of increasing the tax rate on such income for the duration of the crisis.

Lack of meaningful action seems to be predicated on the constitutional right to private property, but that Article 43 right is not untrammeled. The final two clauses of that Article 43 make it absolutely clear that the right is subservient to the needs of social justice and the exigencies of the common good.

The 1982 Supreme Court decision, (very narrow one in scope) was supposedly rectified by a series of Acts that would appear to have been written by a landlords’ lobby group.

These Acts have created a situation whereby the tenants of a family home can be evicted for all of the usual valid reasons, plus the following reasons: If the property is needed to house one of the landlords immediate family - adding privilege to privilege - to reclaim the house for refurbishment or development, and most insidiously of all, if the market price of the freehold property is 20% above its value with sitting tenants.

This would infer that our society no longer believes in the sanctity of the family home if it is rented rather than mortgaged. Add short term leases and a shortage of supply to create the perfect storm of insecurity. Rental homes are no longer homes: just another form of business assets.

Most landlords are as decent as the rest of us try to be but we know from our history the incalculable damage that a few self-obsessed and greedy ones can cause. Do we really believe that evicted tenants should catch the boat to America or England?

Whatever great plans our new government might have for housing, they could make a flying start by ridding us of the gross insecurity of those living in rented homes; or is there a problem, other than political will, that prevents such action?

Frank Kennan, Roundwood House.

10 secret hideaways in Ireland’s Ancient East, www.ireland.com

From castles and cottages to lighthouses and lovely glamping spots, Ireland’s Ancient East offers some truly unique places to stay...

An award-winning, family-friendly Georgian country house hotel, Roundwood House nestles in parkland below the Slieve Bloom mountains. This lovingly decorated oasis features blazing fires, communal dinners, expansive gardens and was once described as having a “marvellous doll’s house-like quality”. Explore the beautiful scenery of the Laois mountains, and retire to the unusual, purpose-built library in the evening to delve into the history of world civilisation with a glass of wine.

https://www.ireland.com/en-no/accommodation/articles/irelands-ancient-east-unique-acommodation/

An Essay on Civilisation

Behind the fun of creating such a library there is an underlying and important purpose: to help develop an understanding that our overall history is, over any extended period of time, a continuous, improving, upward progression, and that the word Civilisation, used properly, is the word that defines this phenomenon.

FREEDOM FROM GENETIC EVOLUTION

When Homo Sapiens first arrived we were already the only species on the planet that was free from a complete reliance on genetic evolution; that is to say we did not need to go through a lengthy process of change to adapt to any new environment we found ourselves in. Life, in general, evolves to better match the environmental niche on which it is dependent but human intelligence renders this imperative mostly redundant and frees humans from lengthy evolutionary time spans. For example, when humans move to a colder climate the evolution of warmer skins is unnecessary: just more clothes, more fires and better shelters. The development of tools, including weapons, meant that almost any environment could provide sustenance and the ability to control fire and cook made a range of foods available beyond the dreams of any other life forms. A few elements of Darwinian evolution were retained in our early days, as in the colour of skin to match the intensity of sunlight where humans lived. Now we use sun cream or vitamin D tablets. Other than in fictional storytelling it is impossible to forecast human advance in the next five hundred years, a time span that is but seconds in the broad sweep of genetic evolutionary development.

WHAT CIVILISATION REALLY MEANS

Free of most of the constraints of genetic evolution we needed our own unique form of evolution; not just to help ourselves and properly match human time frames, but to protect ourselves and all other life forms from the astonishing power, originally hidden, within our intelligence. It was not until very recently that we ourselves realised that intelligence itself would grant the power to unleash nuclear holocaust or catastrophic climate change.The progress of this new form of evolution, the cognitive evolution of human society, is itself the definition of civilisation.

WHAT HIDES THE MEANING FROM US?

We miss the true meaning of civilisation because of our lack of an overarching view of the phenomenon. We insist on breaking it into smaller and smaller pieces to suit our own prejudices and by defining it as Greek, Chinese, Western or Christian civilisation when all we can accurately consider is their individual contributions to the overall advance. We grant it mortality even though the ideas and understanding added to it do not die when the societies and individuals that spawned them fade into the past. Some argue that the core is to be found in Art, Architecture and beauty; others champion Literature or Philosophy and yet others Science. We add religion when we express such ideas such as Judeo-Christian Civilisation. Many misunderstand it to the extent of believing that it depends on well-educated scholars for all contributions, forgetting that its essential roots (common decency, empathy, kindness and all of our other developed virtues) are mostly passed on by everyday people who are not and never will be recognised. Civilisation is a growing, universal, human phenomenon, not the temporary, competitive plaything of any tribe or class or time.

SEPARATION

There are other fallacious ideas that obfuscate it’s meaning — principle amongst them are the never ending attempts to divide us into different species: by race, sex, nationality, religion, tribe, social status and even intelligence. Unfortunately, even some scientists, primarily psychologists and geneticists, are willing to bolster the idea that some of us i.e. women, black people, the poor and various others are ever so slightly less intelligent than our own supposedly superior version: all argued with regret that this is so, such a pity! Idiots! This attempt to resurrect eugenics by subterfuge is a miserable blot on the name of both science and politics.

ACCELERATION

For an evolutionary system, civilisation has a very surprising attribute that we ignore all too often: it is constantly accelerating. Just a few examples make this very clear. To progress from our primeval needs — fire, cooking, language — we required tens of millennia to achieve agriculture and another ten to invent writing; a skill that itself required two and a half thousand years to travel from Mesopotamia to Britain. If someone dreams up an equally powerful idea today, the entire globe can be made aware of it this evening. In our own time, the twentieth century, it is not remotely hyperbolic to suggest that we have advanced more, despite two debilitating world wars, than in the entirety of our previous existence; not only in science and technology but in all aspects underpinning our common humanity. This includes the worldwide reduction in violence, our serious engagement with human rights and our long overdue assault on the pitiful obscenities of misogyny, chauvinism and racism. It is the difficulty of dealing with this tear-away acceleration that underpins most of our current political turmoil.

SOCIETY TODAY

To many it seems that all has gone awry—chaos abounds. In reality this is just the runaway acceleration of our own evolution. Although the word Globalisation is purloined by economists, it is not an economic word but a Civilisational one. We are melding the world together— through commerce, yes, but also through literature, art, film, migration, travel, even pandemics — the list is endless. In addition, the overwhelming connections enabled by the internet and the deluge of information and misinformation that is now flowing around the planet are forcing us all to think about cultures that, heretofore, we barely knew existed and to empathise with those whose social and political difficulties were unknown to us just a few decades ago. Overall what we are learning is that our comfortable status quo cannot hold — that the existential threats we now face are too severe to allow our egregious inequality and consumption to continue. On a more cheerful note, we can see that the political and environmental turmoil we are all currently experiencing is driven, for the most part, by those who imagine they will benefit most from an unjust present. Despite their advantages of wealth and their manipulation of the human fear of change, their voices are becoming more uncontrolled. This is because the only real hope for their ambitions lies in the destruction of Democracy and this, despite their stunning successes to date, is an ambition too far. Democracy is now so deeply embedded in our psyche that the progress of Civilisation itself will not allow its demise. When this ephemeral nightmare ends, as such terrors always do, we will at last have to recognise the true reality that confronts us: a lack of time. If Greta Thunberg lives to be elderly and cannot at that stage find a history book that describes our ruthless deconstruction of insatiable greed and its soul mate, corruption, we will have lost. Muddling through is no longer an option. The future is no longer the present with a few adjustments. We face a tumultuous decade or two. There is nothing good to be said about Covid 19 but it may give us pause to reflect on our current societal trajectory.

FINAL WORD

Civilisation is the upward, cognitive driven evolution of human society. It is constantly striving to accelerate because of our ever increasing knowledge and understanding. Our current apparent hiatus is caused by the difficulties of adjusting to a globalised society and to find faster solutions to the problems of a fast changing world in danger. If, and this is a big if, we survive our all consuming need for excess, the phenomenon will bring us to where all evolution pauses: as near to a perfect global society as our species is capable of. When, as a worldwide community in search of truth and understanding, we can produce the beauty that even a third rate orchestra can, despite its disparate instruments, members and talents, then the cosmos awaits our attention: perhaps just intellectually… but the physical reality also beckons!

THE ROLE OF THE LIBRARY

The very act of attempting to create a graspable sized library (about twelve hundred volumes) covering everything that we as humans have achieved — good and bad — is of necessity doomed to failure because of over ambition. But, however crude and judgmental the reality is, it still allows us to glimpse a shadow of the phenomenon that is cognitive evolution and shines a very bright light indeed on the acceleration that is integral within that same phenomenon: Civilisation.

The Library – a Brief Overview

“A History of the Evolution of Civilisation” -

There is, in the midlands of Ireland, a library of the evolution of civilisation. It sounds like a rather grandiose idea but it comes from the simple notion that society is evolutionary and, like all evolutionary systems, it is upward moving. With the passing of time we become more civilised. We are going somewhere, but where? Of course there are reverses, some of them truly dreadful, but nonetheless, overall we keep moving forward. This library is intended to follow the path of that improvement and to celebrate those individuals who successfully climbed onto the shoulders of millions to give us something new and beautiful; a poem, a philosophy, a scientific theory, a painting, a symphony, a new kind of politics or technology. The intention is to do this within the overall picture of our history from the beginning, with our darkest periods included.

The library is situated in the grounds of Roundwood House at the foot of the Slieve Bloom Mountains and is of limited size (approximately two thousand volumes) to facilitate a general understanding of the development of civilisation. The gallery is given over to related books.

The Sixth Course

In March, the Roundwood team gained an invaluable addition with the arrival of Ted. Ted is a friend of mine from Canada, who possesses a set of skills that have knitted seamlessly into the workings of Roundwood. A chef with 25 years’ experience, an expert on health and safety, a man fond of systems and spread sheets and as it turns out, a damned fine singer.

Upon his arrival, we hit the ground running into our busiest year to date. Slowly but surely, we have been expanding our menus, planting gardens, and improving our overall efficiency. We even have weekly meetings, just like grown-ups.

But our unexpected mutual interest in singing songs has been the most interesting development.
As it turns out our voices blend amazingly, into a delicious harmonic sauce. And so, the endless hours we spend cooped up in the kitchen are regularly interrupted with spontaneous musical interludes.

At one of our weekly meetings, the topic of USP’s, unique selling points, for our business came up. What can we offer guests that is unique to the personalities running Roundwood? Ted offered the fact that, increasingly, elements of the plates that we serve come from our own gardens. A selling point indeed, but not unique to us. I mentioned our menagerie of animals that wander the grounds and welcome our guests. Again, lovely but not unique. Then Hannah piped up with a mad idea. Why not sing for the guests after dinner? Present it as a complimentary sixth course.

Lots of restaurants offer multiple courses, but they are all made of food. I had never heard of a musical course before, so an after dinner song definitely ticked the “unique” box. Whether it would be a selling point remained to be seen.

And so we started. That night after desert had been served, I slung my guitar over my shoulder and Ted and I entered a packed dining room to present our first “sixth course”, to a family celebrating their matriarch’s birthday. The standing ovation and request for another song which followed convinced us we were on to something.

A few songs later we thanked our first audience and took our leave of the dining room, but not before infecting them all with the music bug. As we got stuck in to cleaning the kitchen, a full throated version of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah burst through the dining room door. And then another song… then another. Our forced musical intervention had changed their evening from a gathering to a celebration. We had uncovered a super-power.

An hour later, as all of the staff sat around a long-cleaned kitchen, it became clear that I would have to end what we had started, so the dining room could be cleaned. I grabbed my guitar and we started into an Everly Brothers number leading the celebrants, pied piper style, to the drawing room where the music continued for the rest of the night.

The next morning over breakfast, the compliments on the night’s entertainment were enough to convince us that the “Sixth Course” would become a mainstay on our nightly menu. When one of the guests pulled Hannah aside to immediately book her 60th birthday, on condition of a repeat performance by Ted and I, we realised that our “unique selling point” had delivered.

The Road Less Travelled

Spend enough time anywhere and it will become normal.  When I first arrived in Ireland from Canada in 1998, I savoured every small, alien detail. The smell of turf, the sideways spray of inoffensive mist, the never-ending hedgerows, the random banter.

Necessarily, the magic fades. Seeing everything as if for the first time would be exhausting.

However, it is nice every now and again to be reminded of it.

People from around the world arrive at our door because they chose Ireland, chose our house, have chosen to drink it all in and I get to be their drinkin’ buddy, so to speak.

Our home is temporarily theirs as they head off on their “Irish Adventure”. When they return I get to hear stories set in my world, told through their eyes and both their eyes and their stories are better than mine.  They often see beauty where I see the ordinary and have great adventures from unlikely beginnings.

An Australian guest returning from a morning jog yesterday told me she had met an old man down the road who had offered to sell her his house.  Wondering how such a casual encounter on the side of the road could lead to his offer, I asked her to describe their conversation, and it went like this:

Old Man:  Who are you?
Guest:  Barbara.
Old Man: Where are you staying?
Barbara: Roundwood House.
Old Man: Do you have a cigarette?
Barbara: No, sorry. I didn’t think to bring them when I came jogging this morning.
Old Man: I have a house for sale down the road.  Do you want to buy a house?
Barbara:  No thank you.  I’m just visiting.
Old Man:  Oh.

That was it. He walked on, she jogged.

To think that if Barbara hadn’t gotten up that morning to seize the day and to welcome all that Ireland had to offer, the opportunity would have been lost and that beautifully surreal conversation would never have taken place.

I’m sure she enjoyed the historic sites that I sent her to and the pubs that I recommended, but you can be sure that by the time you’ve read this, the story about the old man trying to sell her his house is the one she has shared with family and friends at dinner parties and bars back home. Indeed, it is encounters such as these at the side of country roads that do more to excite the imagination of visitors to Ireland than any glossy travel brochure. The brochure shows you the stage, but the experiences are the play. And although I try my best to point visitors towards experiences that I think will enhance their stay, it is often the ones that they stumble upon themselves that stay with them the longest and remind me that there is great stuff everywhere, if you look.

And a graveyard is as good a place as any to start looking.

Two guests arrived late one night, having gotten lost on their way from Sligo. To get their bearings, they pulled over beside a small graveyard in a town just outside of Roscommon. They decided to have a wander around and came upon the epitaph to beat all others. Inscribed on the headstone of a well travelled soldier who died in the 1st World War, were simply four words. “I’ve been everywhere else.”

So, my advice for visitors to these shores; come to Ireland and get lost… You never know what you might find.