Ross, Ireland, illustration by Alan Clarke Image Name: Ross, Ireland, illustration by Alan Clarke
Ross in bed, illustration by Alan Clarke Image Name: Ross in bed, illustration by Alan Clarke
Paul Howard. Photo by Adrian McCarthy Image Name: Paul Howard. Photo by Adrian McCarthy
Paul Howard office. Photo by Adrian McCarthy Image Name: Paul Howard office. Photo by Adrian McCarthy
Paul Howard and Humphrey his dog. Photo by Adrian McCarthy Image Name: Paul Howard and Humphrey his dog. Photo by Adrian McCarthy
Paul Howard and Humphrey his dog in garden. Photo by Adrian McCarthy Image Name: Paul Howard and Humphrey his dog in garden. Photo by Adrian McCarthy

This revealing and entertaining documentary spends time with Paul Howard, the man behind Ross O’Carroll-Kelly. Described by the Irish Times as ‘Ireland’s pre-eminent satirist’ and by the Irish Independent as ‘one of the world’s funniest writers’, this documentary attempts to get inside the complex mind of workaholic wordsmith Paul Howard, a writer at the top of his career. The exploits of his greatest anti-hero creation Ross O’Carroll-Kelly have been the subject of hundreds of weekly newspaper columns penned by Howard over twenty years, as well as eighteen ‘Ross’ novels, selling well over a million copies.

So what makes Paul Howard tick and how has he managed to keep the antics of this fictional south Dublin rugby jock so relevant and successful over two whole decades? Filmed across 2018 and 2019 the film follows Howard as he writes his 19th Ross book (Schmidt Happens) and works on his latest one man Ross play with actor Rory Nolan.  But it also traces Howard’s life and career, taking him back to his working-class roots in Ballybrack and to the old offices of the Sunday Tribune newspaper where he became one of Ireland’s most successful and respected sports journalists.

Featuring contributions from the likes of Brian O’Driscoll, Johnny Sexton, Simon Zebo, Ryle Nugent, illustrator Alan Clarke, editor Rachel Pierce and others, we examine how failed Number 10 rugby international Ross O’Carroll-Kelly has held up a mirror to Irish society and politics over the last 20 years. How, through Ross’s first person perspective, written in “Dort-speak”, Howard has successfully documented the story of modern-day Ireland in a unique and often hilarious way.

“Private school, obnoxious, but somehow he still had a likeability to him. It’s testimony that those who were being slagged off are amongst his biggest fans.”Brian O’Driscoll

Born in London, Paul Howard came to Dublin as an eight-year-old in 1979, growing up in a working-class estate in Ballybrack, South Dublin. Twenty years later, as a sports journalist with the Sunday Tribune, he created Ross O’Carroll-Kelly as a way of having a go at the middle-class Dublin schoolboy rugby world he had never been a part of. He wanted the people he wrote about to hate the column. It didn’t work; they loved it. It quickly gathered cult-like status among the rugby fraternity and beyond, with readers yearning for more and more.

The creation became a weekly column in the Sunday Tribune in 1998 where it went from strength to strength; but in 2007 Howard decided to leave the Tribune and brought the column to the Irish Times, where it has remained ever since. The fictional Ross, who began as a schools’ rugby legend, is now a middle-aged dad with a bit of a paunch, struggling to cope with the ever-changing world around him.

With Humphrey his lovable Bassett hound by his side, we spend time with Paul in his home in Avoca, Co. Wicklow as he pens his latest novel and records his weekly podcasts. ‘I’m always asking myself: is it funny enough?’.

Throughout the documentary we meet many of the stars of the world of RO’CK: Brian O’Driscoll, Johnny Sexton, Ryle Nugent and rugby journalist Gerry Thornley, plus rugby pundit George Hook who was an inspiration for Ross’s controversial father Charles O’Carroll-Kelly.  

We also follow Paul as he speaks to pupils in the Mother Ship of Leinster schools’ rugby, Blackrock College; and to Mary Immaculate College in Limerick University where Ross O’Carroll-Kelly is taught on the same curriculum as James Joyce. And we spend time with illustrator and artist Alan Clarke, who brings the world of Ross to life with his extraordinary illustrations:

‘I’ve drawn Ross thousands of times. The fact that there are people out there who almost believe he exists, that’s quite gratifying. He’s had endless liaisons of which many I’ve actually drawn. I remember one time he ended up with this girl who smeared herself with deep heat to stay warm – and burnt him quite badly!’.

Welcome to the world of Paul Howard and his greatest creation: the RO’CK.

A Wildfire Films Production for RTÉ.

The documentary is produced and directed by Adrian McCarthy whose previous arts documentaries include ‘Portrait of a Gallery: The National Gallery Reborn’, ‘Graham Linehan – Funny Business’, ‘Gilbert O’Sullivan – Out on his Own’ and ‘Small/Far Away; The World of Father Ted’.