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.

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.

The Irish Independent, January 12 2014

One of Ireland’s most unusual libraries is set to open this week – with the world being asked to decide what should be in its collection.

The Library of the History of Civilisation is the brainchild of Frank Kennan, who lives in Roundwood House, a remarkable Palladian villa nestled in the foothills of the Slieve Bloom mountains in Co Laois.

After a year long odyssey trying to step outside the maelstrom of everyday news to discover where the human race was headed, he has come up with around 700 books he believes sums up our journey so far.

The collection was helped by a “shocking number of opinions” from guests who come to stay at the house – saved from ruin by the Irish Georgian Society and taken over by Frank and his wife Rosemary in the 1980s.

“There was no one came into the drawing room and said they were a philosopher, but there were an enormous number of philosophers,” he said.

But now he wants to take it beyond the drawing room, and is asking the wider world to help determine the permanent collection.

Finishing touches are being put on a purpose-built library in one of the old grain stores at the rear of the historic house which will house the books.

The library attempts to map out what French philosopher Voltaire described as the steps by which men passed from barbarism to civilisation, according to Frank.

But he says years of reading and thinking about civilisation and what it meant led him to less than obvious choices for the project.

“It’s easy to say Newton, Einstein, Dante, Shakespeare, these are books we would all agree on, and the Bible and the Koran,” he said.

“But I think in looking in books, I had a sudden realisation that actually everything is involved in civilisation.

“So books on spices show us spices affected our history, and so did salt and pepper – in terms of trade routes, and taxes, and revolutions.”

Frank said there would be little serious argument about the first 300 or 400 books in the collection, but the remainder will constantly change as civilisation itself changes.

Some will become less important and others will become more so.

“The library doesn’t match most people’s ideas of a library. Books don’t usually get thrown out of a library,” he said.

The quest has left him optimistic about civilisation, he says, despite the chance the human race could “wreck it” with the bomb or climate change.

“I’ve become more optimistic the more I read, the more I think about it,” he said.

“An awful lot of people spend their time thinking the world is getting worse, or we’re facing incredible dangers or we’re going in all sorts of directions and none of them mean much.

“But if you know we are on an upward path, it would stop us worrying, stop journalists writing about the terribleness of the world and talking utter rubbish about the good old days.”

The library is to open this week, and the public is being invited to visit or get in touch to offer their opinion on what should be in – and out – of the collection.

They should expect to be challenged.