In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • The Re-education of Ross O'Carroll-Kelly
  • Adam Kelly (bio)

In december 2011 the results of an online poll to select Ireland's favorite novel were announced by the Irish bookstore chain Eason & Son. The clear winner, fending off international competition from the likes of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, Joseph Heller's Catch-22, and J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, as well as the writings of Irish rivals such as Emma Donoghue, John Boyne, and Cecelia Ahern (not to mention Wilde, Joyce, Beckett, and O'Brien), was Paul Howard's 2010 novel The Oh My God Delusion, the tenth entry in the wildly popular Ross O'Carroll-Kelly series.1 The series, which follows the adventures of a young upper-middle-class Dublin socialite whose initials evoke the nickname of a well-known south County Dublin private school, began as a sports column penned by Howard for the weekly Sunday Tribune newspaper in 1998. The first novel in the series, The Miseducation of Ross O'Carroll-Kelly: The Diary of a Schools Rugby Player, was self-published by Howard in 2000, having been rejected by a number of publishers. It was followed in 2001 by a second self-published book, and the commercial success of these titles encouraged the Irish publisher O'Brien Press to issue the third and fourth Ross novels in 2003 and 2005, as well as republishing the first two in revised versions in 2004. In 2006 Penguin Books took over publication of the series with the fifth book, and since then Ross O'Carroll-Kelly novels have appeared at a rate of roughly one per year. The series has also produced an array of spinoffs, including a spoken-word album, a travel guide to Dublin, a book of mock-interviews, an art exhibition, and three plays. The newspaper column has continued on a weekly basis, migrating in September 2007 from the Sunday Tribune to the Irish Times. The Tribune has since folded, with its former editor claiming—perhaps in jest, perhaps not—that [End Page 49] Howard's column had been the only thing keeping the newspaper afloat.2 By 2015, according to newspaper profiles of Howard published during that year, the Ross O'Carroll-Kelly novels had sold over one million copies, while the column is reliably the most downloaded page every weekend in the online Irish Times.3

A prominent early example of the popular culture spawned by the "New Ireland" of the Celtic Tiger years, the success of the Ross O'Carroll-Kelly series has continued unchecked through the 2008 crash and on into the present. This makes the Ross phenomenon a potentially significant site for exploring the subject of Ireland and the contemporary, albeit a site that has mostly been overlooked by scholars writing about Irish culture.4 In this essay I argue that the [End Page 50] Ross O'Carroll-Kelly series should be taken seriously for reasons that go beyond its sheer popularity and the sense that this popularity gives of important continuities between pre- and post-crash Ireland. Looking in detail at the revisions made by Howard to The Miseducation of Ross O'Carroll-Kelly for its republication by O'Brien Press in 2004 as Ross O'Carroll-Kelly, The Miseducation Years, I set those changes against the background of the rapid globalization and Americanization of the Irish economy and society during the Celtic Tiger years. The period between the original appearance of the novel and its republication witnessed a crucial shift in the underlying nature of the economy, as "Ireland's boom of the 1990s, rooted in public and private productive investments, was sidelined by an asset bubble rooted in financial and property speculation in the 2000s."5 This was the bubble that burst so dramatically in the worldwide financial crash of 2008, and the consequences of this bursting and the multifaceted crisis that followed it have fundamentally shaped the Ireland of the present time of writing. Yet while the economic character of this turn-of-the-century shift from boom to bubble has by now been well documented and much analyzed, the political, social, and cultural changes...


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