Remarkable teenager Donal Walsh’s legacy lives on

It’s more than a year since Donal Walsh died, but his message still resonates, says Donal Hickey.

Remarkable teenager Donal Walsh’s legacy lives on

THE legacy of a remarkable teenager who touched people’s hearts continues unabated.

Upwards of €400,000 has, so far, been raised for two causes espoused by the late Donal Walsh — cancer treatment and research, and the prevention of suicide among young people.

Apart from happy memories, he has bequeathed a lot of hard work to his grieving parents, Fionnbar and Elma, as they go on doing what he did, even in his last days as he battled terminal cancer.

Much of their free time is given to visiting schools around the country getting their son’s message across.

“We spend one or two days a week doing this and are almost fully booked out for September and October,” said Fionnbar from Tralee, Co Kerry.

“This work gives incredible reach to young people and the important thing is that these meetings are being looked for by the young people themselves because they can relate to Donal and want to continue the conversation.”

The couple attempt to answer many questions from the teenagers such as how did Donal have the courage to do what he did, how much did he suffer and why was he so positive?

Among the replies the parents offer is that, along with sterling personal qualities, Donal had a simple faith-based life.

One of things that people liked about Donal, according to Fionnbar, was he was not politically correct.

“When he made his appeal to other young people about suicide, he spoke about the ‘mess’ that people who take their own lives leave behind for their families,” Fionnbar recalled.

“Some people might not have liked the use of the word ‘mess’ but that was the way he saw it and there’s no doubt that people who take their own lives do leave a mess for their loved ones.

“I think one of his key contributions was that he started a conversation that made it okay for people to talk about mental health and depression. Since then, many other people, some of them very well known, have come out talking openly about their mental illness.”

The three-time cancer victim, who fought so hard for his own life, admitted to having “nothing but anger” whenever he heard of other young people taking their own lives.

Terence Casey, coroner for east and south Kerry, is convinced Donal’s appeal to young people has considerably reduced suicides in the county and has made a huge difference to people’s attitudes.

Donal’s words — that if people looked for help they could find a solution and they need to think of the consequences of what they are about to do for those they leave behind — have a strong resonance with Mr Casey, who also believes firmly in openness about suicide.

Since his death at the age of 16 in May of last year, Donal become known nationally and internationally. Fundraising has continued in his name, mainly through the Donal Walsh Foundation.

Recently, €80,000 was handed over for a teen room at the planned Kerry Hospice in Tralee while €150,000 was raised for a teen room in Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital, Dublin, where he had been a patient.

Between €20,000 and €25,000 has been earmarked for teen facilities to be provided by the suicide prevention charity Console and Pieta House in Tralee, Limerick, Galway and Cork, with similar facilities also planned for Dungarvan, Co Waterford.

Also, there’s a further €100,000 waiting to be distributed to Console and Pieta House which runs suicide prevention programmes.

At the same time, voluntary and sporting organisations and people in many areas are engaged in separate fundraising.

Fionnbar, for instance, has reacquainted himself with a bike for the first time in 30 years to train for the Mizen to Malin Rugby Legends Cycle in aid of cancer treatment next month, while Elma is climbing Mount Brandon, in Kerry.

People keep contributing, with individuals giving anything from €5 to three or four-digit sums.

Touching tributes from many who make donations are to be found on social media. “He made me realise how lucky I am and his outlook on everything was inspirational,” said one.

Another said, simply: “A shining light, never to be extinguished.”

Life goes on, meanwhile. Donal loved sport, rugby especially, and encouraged his peers to take part in it. Two of his friends in Tralee, James O’Connor and Cormac Coffey, are already making names for themselves through their selection for the Munster Youths’ rugby squad and the Kerry minor footballers, respectively.

He would have been proud of them.

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