Laboratory Manager and Post-Doctoral Researcher
Science, research and development
Darragh, aka ‘The Menace’ Ennis, from Rathcoole in County Dublin, became the sixth ‘Chaser’ after a highly successful stint as a contestant on the show hosted by Bradley Walsh.
“My mother always called me ‘a mine of useless information!’” he jokes via zoom. “I always had a good memory for random facts and weird things.
“We have a laugh in the studio; the crew are frankly amazing. Bradley Walsh is absolutely one of the funniest people I’ve ever met, and I get to be on TV being a smart Alec.”
At Oxford University’s biochemistry department, he is Dr Darragh Ennis, laboratory manager and a post-doctoral researcher in Neuroscience. At Maynooth University, his PhD in biology explored how to control insect pests in forestry through non-chemical means, including microscopic worms.
“I’ve memories of an alarm waking me up at 3am and having to get up and to go down to the Department and explain to Security that I needed to shake 50 of these big five litre bottles to keep the worms alive…. and then I’d go back to bed.”
Darragh spent almost a decade in Maynooth University, as an undergraduate student, then a PhD scholar, followed by a year as a post-doctoral researcher.
“I did some really cool and fun stuff and I made a lot of very good friends. I met my wife there; I came third in the ‘Drag Ball Thorny Rose’ charity competition as part of Rag Week -- it’s a kind of tongue-in-cheek version of the Rose of Tralee, where all guys dressed up as women, and you had to do a talent thing.” Darragh’s pretty painful performance was to have his legs waxed in the student bar, The Roost.
During a biology field trip to County Mayo, he was inspired by Prof Christine Griffin and Prof Emeritus Martin Downes, to study for a PhD. He describes the field trip as “actually a life-changing time”.
And he keeps in touch with his Maynooth pals. Dr Ciarán Mac an Bhaird, Head of the Maths Support Centre, “is still one of my very best friends,” he says. “Ciarán really tutored me in Maths, because I was struggling quite a bit. He’s the only reason I passed Maths in first year, so I owe him a very big debt!”
The Ennis family are not short of MU alumni. His mother Violet graduated with a BA in History and Geography in 1992; Paul, his brother, was awarded a Postgraduate Diploma in Educational Leadership in 2014.
Darragh met his wife, Joan Gannon, while they were studying for their doctorates in Biology. “We were very, very, good friends for a long time, and we lived together as housemates before we got together. She worked about five doors down the corridor in the Callan Building on South Campus.”
The couple started the university Surf Club and headed off on trips to scenic spots in all weathers along the west coast of Ireland. “The thing is, I’m rubbish at all sports. I can’t dance, can’t sing. People say, ‘oh everyone can dance’. But I literally cannot dance, I got lessons when we were getting married ‘cos we had to do a dance, the first dance, you know, the traditional thing. I memorised where to put my feet, based on the words of the song.
“On the morning of the wedding, when my wife tried on her dress, she realised she couldn’t do all the steps. She said, ‘we need to change the dance’. I’m like: ‘I can’t change! I’m not a dancer!
“So, I don’t have any talents in a lot of fields, but I can remember things, I don’t have to work at it. I breezed through school without studying. The only time I really started studying was when it got hard in Maynooth.”
His mother Violet, 71 years, is a retired teacher. “My mother is my number one inspiration in life. She was always very clever; she grew up in a working class family -- no one went to secondary school at the time – it wasn’t the ‘done’ thing. She went back to school after she had five children. My playschool was in Pearse College in Crumlin, where she went back to do her Leaving Cert,” he recalls.
The couple have two small children, and a visit back earlier this year was the first time Darragh had seen his parents for two years. “We call them every single day, before they go to bed so they can say good night, because my children are obsessed with their grandmother,” he smiles.
Needless to say, there’s a standing invitation for Darragh to return to his alma mater with his family at any time, no questions asked.