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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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 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

Frank’s Library at Roundwood House

“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.

Theatre Night at Roundwood House Where the Willow meets the Ash


Sunday, May 26th, 2018 at 8pm, with preshow dinner at 6.30pm

A runaway hit in the Viking Theatre last month, Where The Willow Meets The Ash is a serious comedy about stubborn men from the pen of an outstanding Irish writer.
It is the much-anticipated sequel to Malachy McKenna’s hugely successful and multi award winning drama, The Quiet Land, which also came to Roundwood House.
When the chaotic and easy-going bachelor farmer Bobby Ryan gets a visit from a smooth-talking Englishman, all sorts of local rivalries and ancient grudges are stirred up. Who is this mysterious blow-in? What are his intentions regarding the beautiful barmaid Polish Maria? And, more importantly, what are his plans for Nayshee’s Acres, site of the old hurling pitch and sacred among generations?
The appearance of the belligerent old neighbour, Eamon McConnell, introduces new issues in the struggle for the soul of the hillside and, ultimately, heart breaking family secrets are revealed.
Where the Willow Meets the Ash features an experienced trio of actors – Michael James Ford, Tom Lawlor and Malachy McKenna – and is directed by Bairbre Ni Chaoimh.

Hidden Ireland Sessions

Hidden Ireland Sessions at Roundwood House

Friday, March 15TH

Once again, we’re delighted to announce the return of Ciaran Tourish and Kevin Doherty for another Hidden Ireland Session. Join us on Friday, March 15th for a St. Patrick’s Day Weekend session that you won’t soon forget… unless you spend too much time at the bar, in which case it may become hazy… The point being, Hidden Ireland Sessions never disappoint and no two are ever the same. So bring an instrument, bring your love of live music and bring a friend, and help us celebrate St. Patrick’s Weekend in style!

Hidden Ireland Session featuring Ciaran Tourish and Kevin Doherty with songs from their latest album Hotel Fiesta, as well as many old favourites.

Friday, March 15, 8.00 pm
Tickets: €25
3-course dinner (optional) served at 6.30 pm: €40

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.

A Christmas Carol at Roundwood House

Sunday, December 9th 2018, Roundwood House, Co Laois at 8pm
Tickets: €25 (including mulled wine). Booking: 057 8732120
Pre-Show Three Course Dinner at 6.30pm: €45

This highly theatrical adaptation of A Christmas Carol brings the colour and vivacity of the greatest of all Christmas stories to the intimate setting of Roundwood’s famous library.