Undeniably one of Ireland’s most successful writers, Paul Howard is renowned for his enduring and much-loved Ross O’Carroll-Kelly series. While a sportswriter for The Sunday Tribune at the time, he introduced the infamous Southside rugby character through a hugely popular weekend column. Over time, he skilfully intertwined these pieces, culminating in his debut comic novel, ‘The Miseducation of Ross O’Carroll-Kelly’, in 2000.
When Ross was first introduced, he was a teenager and captain of the senior rugby team at the fictitious Castlerock College. He and his teammates were generally quite obnoxious, chasing girls and up to endless high-jinks. As a middle-aged man, many of his fans have grown with him. In the most recent book of the O’Carroll-Kelly series, ‘Camino Royale,’ we find Ross, now divorced with several children, facing a looming court date and dealing with several fractured friendships. He embarks on a pilgrimage on the Camino with his old rugby friends: Ross, Oisin, Christian, JP, and Fionn. Ross is spiritually broken, older and wiser, learning about life and loss. His mum has dementia.
Paul Howard says, ‘Ross did his J1 summer in Ocean City in New Jersey, so it makes sense that he’s now at the age to walk the Camino. I wanted him to go on a bit of a spiritual quest. The guys in the book are often very materialistic, so occasionally, I like to introduce them to something bigger than that. As we get older, these old friendships can become strained or fall by the wayside, so I saw this pilgrimage as an opportunity for the lads, or ‘the goys,’ as they would say, to remember their bond.
The book sees Ross and ‘the goys’ discovering the beauty of the Camino de Santiago and experiencing the warmth of meeting people along the way. Howard describes Ross absorbing the beauty of wheat fields and sunflowers, savouring exquisite white wine and enjoying Pinchos by sunset. Hilariously, Ross does not pack well for his trip, wearing his ubiquitous Dubarry shoes on his trek, a very cliched private school choice, instead of hiking boots, resulting in blistered feet.
‘A lot of my friends had been doing the Camino a lot over the last few years. I was supposed to do it myself; we had it all planned, and suddenly, COVID struck, and I never did it. It’s something I look at now as a missed opportunity. My friends did make it later, but I never did. When I sat down to write ‘Camino Royale,’ despite never being there, I had a very visual sense of it. I had read several guidebooks and blogs and had plenty of photographs,’ Howard says.
We find Ross experiencing the Camino Frances route in northern Spain, encountering several notable places. He spends time in Zubiri, a small town that’s a common pilgrim stop, followed by Pamplona, the capital of Navarre, and the Pamplona Cathedral. In Pamplona, he explores the Museum of Navarra. He also enjoys the bustling Plaza del Castillo, a central square in Pamplona, passing by Ibañeta and Roncesvalles, with the Ib Erlo tavern being the spot where he enjoys (perhaps a bit too much) white wine!
‘I like the character more and more and have become more sympathetic to him. I think everyone in the book is flawed in their own unique way, but Ross’ instincts are quite good. He doesn’t always get it right, but he is a victim of his upbringing, having been the captain of the senior rugby team and with his parents telling him he is the greatest thing since sliced bread,’ Howard concludes.
To read about Ross’ Camino adventures yourself, you can find ‘Camino Royale’ at any bookseller, in person or online. If you want to learn more about taking your trip on the Camino, please don’t hesitate to contact us here.
Illustrations from Alan Clarke