Local ‘character’ closes in on $1 million maths prize

Heat map of Mr. McCabe citing a proof of Fermat's Last Theorem in Boyne Rovers' Pitch.

A well known local man by the name of Patrick McCabe has confounded mathematicians by mapping out possible solutions to some of mathematics most complex conundrums over the course of his daily walks.

Mathematicians following Mr. McCabe’s work are confident he is close to solving both the Riemann Hypothesis and the Hodge Conjecture. Both puzzles hold a $1 million reward as part of the Clay Mathematics Institute’s Millenium Prize Problems.

Mr. McCabe’s exploits first came to the attention of staff at the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) after the tracking device they had placed on a reintroduced White-tailed Eagle began logging some remarkable results. NPWS employee Horace Fox takes up the story.

“We tag birds to track their movements and roost sites. Generally we can see patterns emerging once a bird has established itself in an area – we certainly don’t expect to see mathematical equations or words being spelt! Generally we’re just happy to see that the birds haven’t been poisoned by farmers, shot for target practice by dissident groups or had their young pilfered by egg thieves chasing the perfect omelette.”

Diagram showing Wiles proof of Fermat's Last Theorem.
Diagram showing Wiles’s proof of Fermat’s Last Theorem.

Fox got a land one Monday morning in March when he turned on his computer to find a flight pattern from a newly released White-tailed Eagle spelling out the words ‘Elvis lives baby!’ on his computer screen. Naturally he thought it a joke and new to the job, kept it to himself. But over the course of the week more messages began to appear, this time in the form of increasingly complex mathematical equations.

“Now, like most people I’d recognise Pythagoras’s Theorem anywhere, a2 + b2 = c2 where c represents the length of the hypotenuse and a and b the lengths of the triangle’s other two sides. By Wednesday the bird had mapped out Pi to several thousand decimal places. Then there was more Elvis but on Friday he revisited geometry. It was the same but different, Pythagorean alright but like the angles had been rounded off. Edgy stuff. It was like the bird was training for a maths competition and frankly it terrified me.”

Fox immediately contacted DIFE’s Theoretical Mathematics Professor Archie Kieransis for counsel. Prof. Kieransis wasted no time in assembling a crack team of local mathematicians and bird watchers. The team holed up for a week in Cllr. Flood’s secret bird watching bunker on the Boyne and scoured the sky for trace of the elusive eagle. Despite it clocking in a detailed but flawed proof of the Hodge Conjecture in the vicinity of the bird hide, no physical trace of it could be found. It became clear that the Garda helicopter would need to be hired and it was hovering over Boyne Rovers football pitch that the penny finally dropped. Professor Keiransis recalled.

Mr. Patrick McCabe working on the Riemann Hypothesis. Injured Kingfisher out of picture.
Mr. Patrick McCabe working on the Riemann Hypothesis. Injured Kingfisher out of picture.

“We’d follied the signal to Boyne Rovers’s pitch but sure there was no sign of the bird. And eagles are large enough so as to be easy to spot, especially with this one having a big white tail on him. All there was was a slight but well coiffured individual dressed in black stomping his way around the grounds in a seemingly random fashion.”

The team verified that the man’s movements corresponded to the tracking signals being emitted from the eagle’s electronic tag. Acting on a hunch, Kieransis turned on the heat sensor equipment and pressed record. Though they didn’t know it at the time, the team were witnessing a reconstruction of Wiles’s proof of Fermat’s Last Theorem.

“At first we thought he may have consumed the bird and that the tracking device had lodged in his digestive tract but then every so often he looked like he was about to take off. The birdwatchers wagered that he was concealing a flapping bird under his coat so we advised the Garda sniper to disengage and ordered the chopper be set down nearby.”

After initially attempting to flee on foot before running out of puff, McCabe handed the eagle over and explained that he came across the bird on Dominic’s Bridge surrounded by a group of youths happy slapping the creature.

“Thee were goading him about being a rubbish eagle and about how his flying days were done but thee scattered in the direction of Donore when thee saw me. Thee’d that Meath whiff of pure badness about them. I decided to nurse the poor fella back to health meself.”

The team were still curious and decided to place a tracking device in the sole of McCabe’s shoes. But aside from the odd Elvis lyric appearing on weekends, no pattern emerged. Losing patience, Fox decided to roll the die one last time and acting of his own accord began leaving wounded birds in McCabe’s path. After some initial tweaking (deciding which type of bird and how it should be injured), the maths formulas began to reappear.

“Basically, the rareness and magnificence of the bird tends to bring out more complex equations. We don’t know why this is the case but we’re rolling with it for the moment.  After nursing a pigeon for a week all the team got was some confused long division though his nursing of a beakless crow did lead to the discovery of the first new fraction since the 1800s.*

“Paddy clearly needs a higher calibre of rare bird to nurse. The problem is that these birds are both expensive and difficult to source. He’ll probably need a shot condor or a rake of bruised penguins if he is to push on and solve the problems he’s been working on. If a bird donor doesn’t emerge soon, the dark net is an avenue we may have to go down.”


All birds in this article were nursed back to full enough health.

* Mr. McCabe has followed in the footsteps of Fr. James Cullen by becoming only the second Drogheda man to have numbers named after him.