A DOCUMENTARY about the life of inspiring teenager Donal Walsh even held some surprises for his parents Fionnbar and Elma.
‘Donal Walsh – My Story’ will be broadcast on RTE Two on New Year’s Day as part of the Reality Bites series, telling the story of the Blennerville teenager in his own words and those of his family, friends and others whose came into contact with him.
Just seven months since his death, as they face into their first Christmas without him, Fionnbar said the family was shown the documentary in advance to prepare themselves.
“It’s going to be a lonely time for us but it’s probably going to be a lot lonelier for a lot of other people who did not get a chance to say goodbye to someone they lost, like we did to Donal,” he said.
“If the showing of the documentary means Donal can uplift a few people in a black moment over Christmas it will just bring out his message again.
“It was an incredibly simple message – go out there and live life and make the most of it. He wasn’t going to get that chance, but he wanted other people to.”
By the time he died of cancer, aged just 16, Donal Walsh had touched the whole nation with his simple message that it’s good to be alive.
Mr Walsh said the documentary was different than looking back on Donal’s other interviews because it had sought contributions from other people as well.
On it we see coverage of Donal hanging out with his four closest friends, John Kelly, Hugh Stuart, James O’Connor and Cormac Coffey, who became as close as brothers.
His friend John said Donal’s cancer had brought them all closer together and they constantly looked out for one another.
His cousin Eoin Walsh and his girlfriend Louise Hayes, recall the messer you couldn’t leave your mobile phone near, or your Facebook page open while he was around.
Munster and Ireland rugby international Paul O’Connell reveals how he built up a firm friendship with the teenager and had huge respect for him.
Leinster’s Shane Jennings, who had encouraged Donal to “fight back” when the teen confided in him his cancer had returned, described Donal’s now famous interview with Brendan O’Connor as “one of the most important things we’ve seen on our screens”.
O’Connor also contributes to the documentary himself, as does Donal’s former teacher Ruairi O’Rahilly, who nominated him for the local hero award that brought him to national attention.
Kerry star Paul Galvin said Donal would have made a great captain in rugby with his leadership skills, illustrated when at just the age of 14 he took up coaching with Tralee Rugby Club because he couldn’t play himself any more.
Galvin said: “I felt he had a real maturity about him and an authority that great leaders have.”
But for Donal’s parents, and sister Jema, it was always going to be difficult viewing.
“It was new to us as well because it’s not just Donal, or us, or his friends, it’s other people and the influence he had on them,” his dad said.
He said in the immediate aftermath of their son’s death they hadn’t realised how far reaching that influence had been.
Since then, they’ve been invited to speak to teenagers at schools all over the country and last week launched a poster campaign in Ballinasloe in east Galway to highlight support services for young people.
Mr Walsh said he’s constantly surprised how his son’s story seemed to capture the imagination of the country.
“In the midst of the tragedy that it was, it was also the first good news story in years and I think people latched onto that,” he said.
On a snippet of ‘The Saturday Night’ Show shown in the documentary, O’Connor remarked to Donal: “When you do go I think you’re going to leave some legacy behind.”
And that has not always been easy for his family.
“He left us a huge legacy that we’re trying to live up to and at times that’s very difficult,” Fionnbar said.
Donal Walsh – My Story will be broadcast on Wednesday, January 1 at 9.30pm on RTE Two.