Dara Ó Briain receives Maths Week Ireland award

Tributes paid to comedian for lifelong contribution to raising public awareness of maths

Comedian and science enthusiast Dara Ó Briain has been given the 2021 Maths Week Ireland award for his lifelong contribution to raising public awareness of maths.

The award is presented annually during Maths Week Ireland, a festival of maths and numeracy, which is taking place this week. Ó Briain received it during an online ceremony.

“Ó Briain’s infectious enthusiasm for maths, demonstrated across a variety of different platforms through the years, makes him a worthy winner of this award” according to the citation.

"With an aptitude for maths from a young age, Ó Briain graduated in 1994 with a degree in mathematics and theoretical physics from University College Dublin. "


While his decision to pursue a career as a stand-up comedian initially led him away from the world of mathematics, it continued to have an influence on him and his work, the judges noted.


“He has noticed similarities between the mathematical proof called ‘reductio ad absurdum’. This is where you take an initial supposition and explore it to see how it leads to a contradiction, and the logic used in comedy – where an assumption is made and then exaggerated until it reaches its breaking point,”the citation said.

“Dara has shown that the way in which comedians’ minds work; that is, seeing patterns and relationships, is not unlike how the mind of a mathematician might work.”

Ó Briain said he was flattered and privileged to receive this award.

“Maths Week itself is a great initiative as it shows us maths and numeracy are for everyone regardless of your level of proficiency...it’s incredible to see the huge numbers participating,” he said.

“I’ve always had an interest in maths and am very pleased that I’ve been able to share that interest with a wider audience.”

He said he considered himself “an enthusiastic fan” rather than a maths expert.

Spectacular thing

“I would like to dedicate this award to Prof Seán Dineen who helped to inspire me and my love of maths. Maths is the language in which the universe is written. It’s innate to the human brain and a spectacular thing that we’ve discovered. It permeates our lives, so it’s important to engage with it positively and I’m delighted to be able to help people to do that.”

Prof Dineen, an emeritus professor of mathematics at UCD, was present for the ceremony.

Maths Weeks Ireland is supported by Science Foundation Ireland; the Department of Education, the Department for the Economy – Northern Ireland, ESB, universities, institutes of technology, libraries, schools, training colleges and employers.

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times