‘Dónal was a fighter who always found a way’




“Dónal Walsh saw beauty everywhere around him. The beauty of the world the rest of us had chosen to ignore and not appreciate.”

That moving tribute to the inspirational 16-year-old Tralee student, from his PE teacher Ruairí O’Rahilly, was just one of thousands paid after he lost his long battle with cancer.

Writing in today’s Irish Examiner, Mr O’Rahilly, who brought Dónal to the nation’s attention after he nominated him for a bravery award, said despite being dealt a cruel hand at the age of 12 when first diagnosed, Dónal was never angry, and never wallowed in self-pity.

“Dónal was a fighter who always found a way,” he said, adding that he will always remember Dónal for his smile.

“That smile hid vast quantities of daily medication that was always sitting on the countertop behind him, that smile he had worn since the first day he came into school, that smile that took on weeks and weeks of Duxorubicin, Cisplatin, and Methotrexate — chemo therapies he described as becoming like best friends and worst enemies. That smile will always be synonymous with Dónal.”

The teenager, who raised €50,000 for Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital, was an enthusiastic rugby player and his ambition was to play for Munster.

When cancer finished his playing days at Tralee RFC, he took up coaching and refereeing.

Jay Galvin, the club’s director of rugby, said members were “heartbroken and stunned’’, even though they knew Dónal’s life was coming to an end.

“Everyone is so, so sad today,’’ he said. “But the impact he has made and his legacy are something phenomenal, despite his short years. I was with him during the week and there was no complaint, no why me? He fought his illness so bravely and everyone he met was touched by him.’’

Anne O’Callaghan, principal at Tralee CBS, said it was a difficult time for the 620-student school, especially for Dónal’s friends, most of whom would not have previously experienced the death of someone close to them.

Dónal’s remains will repose in the Walsh home from 2pm to 8pm today when members of the public can pay their respects. Requiem Mass will be celebrated at 12 noon tomorrow in St John’s Church, Tralee, with burial afterwards in Rath Cemetery.

Mourners are being asked to make donations in lieu of flowers, to the palliative care unit, at Kerry General Hospital, Tralee, and Care 4 Kids.

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