Ross O’Carroll-Kelly to retire as an author, but not as an Irish Times columnist

Paul Howard’s next Ross O’Carroll-Kelly book will be last in the million-selling series but Irish Times column will carry on

Paul Howard and the Ross O'Carroll-Kelly statue in Dublin city centre. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

First BOD, then ROG and Johnny and now, saddest of all, the Rossmeister General is retiring.

After a quarter century regaling the country with the outrageous exploits of South Dublin ledge-bag Ross O’Carroll-Kelly, his creator, Paul Howard, has decided it is time to retire Ross from book-writing. Don’t Look Back in Ongar, published this August, will be the final novel in the series.

The good news, however, is that Ross’s column in The Irish Times will continue. “I can confirm that I will continue to write my weekly column in The Irish Times every Saturday. Mainly because my old man reads it and I’m worried that if it suddenly disappears he might tell me to get an actual job.”

Ross O’Carroll-Kelly first appeared as the writer of a satirical column in the Sunday Tribune in 1999. Since then Howard has written 24 Ross novels, three spin-off books and four stage plays, as well as the weekly column. The books have captured Ross’s incomparable “insights” into sport (well: rugby), sex, class, food, parenting, modern marriage, male friendship, ageing and, latterly, Ireland’s political future. Each book has been a No 1 bestseller, three in the series have won the Popular Fiction category at the Irish Book Awards and the series has sold more than one million copies.

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Ross is one of Ireland’s most beloved and well-known characters, with several PhDs written on his body of work. And the books have received consistent critical acclaim, The Irish Times declaring “Ross is a national institution”. In 2019, Hugh Linehan praised the “beloved SoCoDu idiot savant” and his creator for “an extraordinary run of sustained comedic excellence ... Howard has explored nearly every nook and cranny of our absurd consumerist era as filtered through the eyes of his latter-day chino-clad Candide. If you were to ask what should go into a time capsule to explain post-millennial Ireland to future generations, I’d nominate the complete works of Ross O’Carroll-Kelly as the first item in the box.”

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Howard said: “I am, naturally, heartbroken to be bringing the Ross O’Carroll-Kelly series to an end after 24 hugely enjoyable years. I’ve been writing these books for the greater part of my adult life and have loved every single minute of it. Twenty-seven books in 24 years is a hell of a run, and now I feel that the time is right to move on and pursue other projects.

“I want to say a huge thank-you to my readers, a significant number of whom have grown up with Ross and followed his adventures since the very first book, The Miseducation of Ross O’Carroll-Kelly. I hope they’ll feel that Don’t Look Back in Ongar is a suitable ending to the series that does justice to the Rossmeister.

“I am enormously grateful to my publisher, Penguin Random House Ireland, who have been hugely supportive partners for two decades and I want to especially thank managing director Michael McLoughlin for taking a punt on an obnoxious rugby jock with a complicated love life and a head full of dreams.

“I also want to say a huge thank you to the country’s booksellers, who have played a big part in making the Ross series so successful for so long. It’s one of the happy quirks of writing a book in Ireland that you end up on first-name terms with dozens of people who work in bookshops, and I want to say thank you to all of you for your wonderful support over the last two decades.

“I suspect that life is going to feel a lot different for me without a Ross O’Carroll-Kelly book deadline always on the next horizon. But I’m very excited about moving on to tell different stories.”

Ross O’Carroll-Kelly added: ‘I’m no good at goodbyes – which is why I perfected the ort of climbing out of a bedroom window without saying goodbye at all. But I just wanted to hang a high-five in the air for all my readers to say thank you and fair focks to you for following my adventures over the years. One-point-five million books! That’s like filling Croke Pork 18 times over. And not even Gorth Brooks did that.

“It’s been an absolute blast and I can’t wait to find out what life has in store for me next. And if you’re reading this, Leo Cullen, don’t be too proud to call me. You have my number, dude.”

Patricia Deevy, deputy publisher, said: ‘It has been a joy and huge source of pride for all of us in Sandycove to have worked with Paul on the Ross O’Carroll-Kelly books for 20 years. The series has been a stunning feat of consistently brilliant writing by one of Ireland’s best and most astute authors – and definitely its funniest. Not only that, but Paul is also wonderful to work with – considerate, collaborative and always great fun – and is adored by everyone in Penguin. We will miss Ross!’

Discussing the origin of the series with Patrick Freyne in 2021, Howard said the character of Ross was “born out of anger”.

“I covered schools rugby, as a sports reporter, and I think because the environment was so alien to me, I just found it funny. It was kind of the rituals that surrounded the game ... it was the dads who were still going to see the school team play 40 years after they left school. They haven’t really left school; you know, it’s kind of like a permanent adolescence for these men, you know that they still go back and support the team. And the mothers were standing in the mud to watch Traolach play, along with these gangs of girls [who were] throwing themselves at these horrifically ugly rugby players.

“I just thought it was gold. Then I got a solicitor’s letter after covering a match because I gave the try to the wrong kid. And, then I realised how high the stakes were and how ludicrous it all was.

“What was odd was that the people whose skin I was trying to get under turned out to be the audience. A friend of mine who worked in a bookshop told me that these kids used to come in on a Saturday morning and it’d be like five of them crowded around the books, laughing and saying, ‘oh that’s so Traolach’.

“And this was so disappointing to me because Ross was really born out of my class consciousness and my sense that, you know, if you had money in Ireland that you could lead a largely frictionless life.

“[Although] what I’ve realised, especially over the last two or three years writing the books, is that Ross is now probably the only character in the books that I really love. And at the very beginning, I set out to make him the most hateful character in the books.”

Martin Doyle

Martin Doyle

Martin Doyle is Books Editor of The Irish Times