Wicklow People

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Television presenter has got news for you

There's not many of us can say we hurled for the Wicklow minors AND have presented a BBC primetime show watched by 5.5 million people. In fact, Dara O Briain could be the only one.'I've never been asked to do the Bray/Wicklow People interview before,' he says, feigning injury at the relatively blind eye this paper has turned to his rising star.

There's not many of us can say we hurled for the Wicklow minors AND have presented a BBC primetime show watched by 5.5 million people. In fact, Dara O Briain could be the only one.

'I've never been asked to do the Bray/Wicklow People interview before,' he says, feigning injury at the relatively blind eye this paper has turned to his rising star.

Speaking down the phone from his hotel room in Letterkenny, Co. Donegal, where he was due to perform last Friday night, the comedian/TV presenter talks a mile a minute about his home town.

O Briain was born into a famous Bray family - his grandmoter was Connie O'Brien, a veteran of the War of Independence who was buried with full military honours, at the age of 100 in 2002. She counted the likes of Douglas Hyde, Eamon de Valera, Padraig Pearse, and Countess Markievicz among her friends and aquaintances.

Dara has already been on two planes today (London to Dublin, Dublin to Donegal), will be on two more tomorrow (Donegal to Dublin, Dublin to Shannon) - travel is a sometimes unwelcome fact of his chosen profession.

On the day of his grandmother's funeral in the Holy Redeemer, Dara read from the altar, before taking off to Kilkenny where he had a gig. The experience inspired him to write his next show about the day of his grandmother's funeral.

In September 2002 he returned to Bray with that show - to the Mermaid Theatre. 'It was all the same people in the Mermaid that night that were at funeral, so it was a strange experience,' he laughs. It remains his only performance in the town.

Last week he did shows in Tokyo ('full of ex-pats going mad to hear something that isn't Japanese'); Stockholm; London; Letterkenny and Ennis. He's all over the shop.

Raised in Little Bray, young Dara went to a primary gaelscoil in Blackrock, followed by a secondary gaelscoil in Booterstown, but he played both hurling and football for Bray Emmets.

'I played from the ages of 14 to 19 with Emmets, then I got into women and drinking and it all went pear shaped,' he explains. 'Or rather I went pear shaped...'

Despite being cursed with a 'dodgy knee', he says the highlight of his sporting career was a half hour run out for the Wicklow minor hurlers in a league game.

'I spent a lot of time in Emmet Park, so I was sorry to see it go, ' he says, 'But I guess that's the price of progress.... Emmets was by no means a senior club when I was there so I was delighted to hear they were in the senior county final last year.'

'But my dad gets me stuff from the merchandise shop - I do have a Bray Emmets jersey that I wear when I'm playing football in London.'

The other great Bray memory for Dara is the 'Alternative' disco in the Bray Head Hotel. 'A whole generation grew up going to the Al-TER-native (he exaggerates the Bray accent!) on Friday and Saturday nights,' he recalls.

Dara still lived at home until he finished his sciene degree in UCD ('a perfect grounding for comedy') and edited a students' union newspaper for a year before getting a break in RTE children's television, presenting Echo Island.

From there he went on to steal the show on a weekly basis in Don't Feed the Gondolas, and then to Sunday night prime time with the A Family Affair gameshow.

Around this time in the mid 90s, the Irish comedy scene was really taking off, as were a number of comics, such as Dylan Moran, Tommy Tiernan and Jason Byrne, who Dara says 'laid the ground work for everyone else'.

'I used to chair debates in college,' says Dara. 'I was used to speaking in front of people and cracking jokes. They used to get me to MC Blind Date in the student bar on Arts Day, that kind of thing. So I thought 'why not try it out'?'

He did and it worked. 'Irish comedy has such a glowing image around the world that you can sell out a show in Dubai or Australia because it says 'Best of Irish Comedy' on the posters. Being Irish is a brilliant ticket selling device.'

The TV work, Dara insists, is secondary to his live work - he plans the former around the latter. But this year he had his biggest TV success yet when he chaired The Panel on Monday nights on Network 2 - a nod back to where he began in UCD debates. A rare success for RTE comedy, the show was warmly received by both audiences and critics and Dara is fairly certain the show will be back for another run at some stage soon.

'It was nice that people said they like it - if people don't like something they are not slow about telling you!,' he says.

There was also the stint as a guest presenter on BBC2's 'Have I Got News For You', an experience he describes as 'glorious'.

'As a gig it was tough. You don't really think 'here I am presenting the show I used to watch as a kid', you just have to get on with it. 5.5 million is a... stupid amount of people to have watching you, but it was the 400 in the studio I was worried about. You don't feel the rejection of the 5.5 million watching it at home!'


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