Patrick D'arcy - A European Champion
26th April 2021
Read Patrick's recent interview in the Westmeath Examiner:
An invention designed to improve self-evacuation for children has won a top award in a European competition seeking the next generation of innovators and entrepreneurs.
Patrick D’Arcy, 17, a student at Castlepollard Community College, faced a panel of international judges and was placed first in the European Youth Start Awards on Friday.
Patrick was delighted with the outcome. He said: “Just before they announced who had won the competition, the presenter said, and our winner is from the beautiful island of Ireland, then this big pause – Patrick D’Arcy. And I just couldn’t believe it, then I could hear my mam and her friends cheering like mad from down the hall, where they were watching it and I thought it is me – they have selected the project. It was mighty, I couldn’t believe it.”
Patrick’s entry, Wide Awake, is a hybrid alarm is designed to be more effective in waking sleeping children, was inspired by his sister sleeping through a smoke alarm as a child.
“My mam got my sister’s hearing tested and her hearing was perfect – it was a simply that whatever way children’s brains work in sleep, a standard smoke alarm might not wake them.”
The judging in Patrick’s case was on Friday morning, beginning with an elevator pitch, followed by a session where the judges questioned Patrick on his idea and how it could be moved to the next stage. The competition took place over two days and would have been held in Vienna but was instead a virtual event.
“It was a really brilliant two days; we were taken on a virtual tour of Vienna and we learned all about the city and its culture. We got to meet all the other competitors and there was a lot of events designed to help us get to know each other. It was funny, actually. There were three competitors on the Irish team, Joseph Mannion, Jessica Griffith and me.
“They split us up to do ice breakers with other countries and I was asked who would I choose to have dinner with – I said Michael D Higgins and we had to say why. When we all got back to the Irish table, we found out we all had chosen Michael D as our fantasy dinner guest and had to explain to people from Nepal and Bangladesh and Kenya how cool our president is, and about his dog – it was funny. We were saying to each other we are all a bit culchie compared to the other entries.”
One of the questions the judges asked was what challenges Patrick faced and what he had learned from them.
“I told them that I had learned to be resilient and patient with myself. Some of the ideas I had for the Wide Awake had to be completely abandoned as I gathered more and more information. A great example is the advice I received from early years specialist Paula Hilliard. Paula told me – never confuse the messages children are given.
“They are told in the event of a fire that they leave straight away they do not go back for anything. So, the ideas that I had for the Wide Awake to be a torch or that it could be carried to provide a location were scrapped, because I had to line up with the message ‘get up and get out and don’t go back for anything’.
“That was weeks of work abandoned but you can’t keep working on something that’s flawed. You can’t ice a bad cake.
“The second challenge I spoke about was not knowing how to ask for help and not wanting to bother people. It was a really difficult thing for me to reach out to get the information I needed, but I learned that people are kind and generous with support and information when you ask them.
“I was also guided by answers I received from Westmeath County Council’s Joe Cassidy, the assistant chief fire officer, who provided detailed information on what key messages I would need to adopt, by Catherine Darby in Westmeath LEO, and my teachers Mr Melody, Murphy and Mr Gilsenan, who were supportive in this competition and in the earlier competitions like BTYSE, Foróige NFTE and the Student Enterprise Competition.
“Our school has such a great community; our teachers are always so thrilled for us when we are in competitions or out doing well.
“I think that Mr Walsh and my teachers were as excited as me. The news came in and straight away my teachers were sending messages saying well done; the first message of congrats I got was from my maths teacher Ms Casey, nearly immediately, and it was great to think they were all rooting for me.”