Out for Coffee with Paul Howard

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Once a respected sport journalist, Paul Howard is best known for the cult character who we love to hate, or hate to love. Ross O’Carroll Kelly, a Dublin 4 has-been rugby jock, is the protagonist of fourteen books and a weekly column in the Irish Times.

He, Paul not Ross though I wouldn’t be the first to make that mistake, told me over soup n’ a sambo his inspiration for the cult character (spoiler alert, it was a lad in Blackrock College), how he blagged his way into meeting Muhammad Ali, and what it’s like to watch some scantily clad women mud-wrestle in a pub on Capel Street.

LC: You were once reported as saying you are as working class as curry chips. Where were you born?

PH: I was born in London, but we moved to Ireland when I was about eight. My dad was a factory worker, my mother a housewife and we lived in a council house [in Ballybrack] until I was 16 or 17.

LC: Tell me about your early work as a journalist for the Sunday Tribune?

PH: I remember being sent out one Sunday morning to cover a mud-wrestling thing just off Capel Street. It was in the back of a pub and there was this inflatable swimming poll and scantily-clad women, actually they weren’t clad at all, they were naked women. Cathal Mac Coille [the Editor at the time, now on Morning Ireland] said there’s not a chance I could use that.

LC: But you became a success in sports journalism, you met Muhammad Ali.

PH: Yeah, I met him in 1992 in a hotel in New Jersey and I kind of tricked my way into his room by pretending to be a hotel bellboy. It was just one of those spur of the moment things, he pulled up in a limo outside the hotel and the bellboy said, ‘have you ever met the champ before, do you want to bring his bag up to him?’ We didn’t exchange words because he’s got Parkinson’s disease so he couldn’t articulate anything it was a completely silent moment, the presence that he had was incredible.

LC: Where did your inspiration for Ross O’Carroll-Kelly come from?

PH: I heard this Blackrock College kid say to his Dad, ‘I don’t give a f**k how I played just whack open the wallet,’ and he was kind of an inspiration for Ross. It was that whole subculture that surrounded rugby; it was the yummy mummies and the dads with camel-haired coats.

LC: Was it tough to lampoon those kinds of people?

PH: When I started writing it, I wanted to get under the skin of the people I was writing about. They became the audience, I didn’t expect that. In the early books, I can see the humour is a whole lot sledgehammer, it’s a lot angrier. I’ve grown to like the character.

LC: Where’s Ross now, tell me about your current play?

PH: It’s called Breaking Dad, it’s set in the future. I wanted to do something different so it’s set in the year 2022. I wanted to see them all at a later date in their lives. Ross is in his 40s. Ross’s daughter brings home the captain of the Blackrock College senior rugby team, who is just a young prototype version of Ross O’Carroll-Kelly, and it’s all about how Ross copes.
Breaking Dad runs in the Gaiety Theatre from April 25th until May 17th, tickets start at €25 and are available at Ticketmaster.

By Liam Cahill