As the new year begins, viewers around the country will have the chance to celebrate the life of one of the inspirational figures of 2013, with a documentary charting the remarkable life of the 16-year-old from Blennerville in Co Kerry, who died last May.
In the programme South Kerry coroner Terence Casey claims Donal’s legacy, after a four-year battle with cancer, has been to ensure that others have continued to live.
“For a period of six months to have no suicides in south Kerry has been unthinkable for years.
“His intervention in speaking out the way he did has in my mind made a drastic change in the rate of people who take their own lives.”
The programme presents an intimate portrait of a young man hailed as a leader by sportsmen including Munster captain Paul O’Connell and Kerry footballer Paul Galvin.
It features home video of Donal playing his beloved drumkit in the shed of his Blennerville home, and messing with friends, including on a poignant trip to London when the diagnosis of terminal cancer had already been made.
One of his friends, John Kelly, says he and Donal had “the same similarities, same sense of humour” and claimed that “when he got cancer, it brought everyone closer together”.
His parents Elma and Fionnbar testify to his spirit from a young age, with Elma saying “he was lively from the word go”.
His sister Jema says Donal was “a good brother” and reveals she will name her first child after him while his cousin Eoin Walsh outlines the extent to which Donal would play pranks on people using their mobile phones.
Munster Rugby’s Paul O’Connell tells the documentary he became “firm friends” with the Kerry youngster having got to know him as Donal attended Munster matches.
Shane Jennings of Leinster reveals that he received a number of texts of support from Donal ahead of important matches, adding: “He was always good to me.”
GAA star Paul Galvin reveals that in his meetings with Donal, he came to believe the teenager had “a great authority” and leadership qualities, adding that “he probably had the makings of a captain in rugby”.
However, some of the most poignant scenes involve Donal talking about the history of his illness and in particular when he was told that it was “untreatable”.
“For four years nearly, I was back to normal,” he says. “I had found happiness again in my life but suddenly they found another tumour in my lung.”
He also recalls the essay that brought him to national prominence after he had been named a local hero in Kerry, and then his call on young people of his generation to not look at suicide as a possible solution to life’s problems.
His family regularly visit his grave and the film also looks at his legacy, not least the sporting fundraisers set up in his honour and the Donal Walsh #livelife Foundation, with money going towards teen facilities.
As Paul O’Connell tells the programme: “You spend a little bit of time with him and you do become attached to him, you do become fond of him, and you do become inspired by him.”