Sunday 26 October 2014

Family overwhelmed as tributes pour in for inspirational teen

Published 14/05/2013 | 05:00

HE has been described as a "hero", an "inspiration" and a "giant".

Today more than a thousand people are expected to pay their respects to Donal Walsh. The 16-year-old, who lost his battle with lung cancer on Sunday night, will be waked today at the family home on Hare Street, Blennerville, Co Kerry.

Donal passed away at home, surrounded by his family, at around 8pm on Sunday.

Among those paying tribute was one of Donal's heroes, Dan Carter of the All Blacks, who described him as an "inspiration".

The New Zealander previously contacted Donal a month ago after hearing about his brave cancer battle.

"Thoughts go out to his family and friends," added Carter yesterday.

Rugby was Donal's passion and when he could no longer play himself he helped train younger players.

He struck up a friendship with Irish rugby international Paul O'Connell, who contacted Tralee Rugby Club when news reached him at the training camp where he's preparing for the Lions Tour.

O'Connell's former Munster and international colleague Peter Stringer said Donal was "a brave and inspirational young man who will be dearly missed".

And Munster fly-half Ronan O'Gara tweeted: "Proud to have been introduced to Donal Walsh by Paul O'Connell. What an inspirational young man. Thoughts and prayers with your loved ones."

Donal's heartbroken parents, Fionnbar and Elma and his older sister, Jemma, have been overwhelmed by how he touched so many lives.

But yesterday, the Walsh family appealed for privacy.

Today they will open their home to those who wish to pay their respects in person to a brave youngster whose life-affirming message is already thought to have saved lives.

The 16-year-old came to national prominence after he spoke publicly about his illness and how angry it made him feel when he heard of young people taking their own lives when he had no choice about when his would end.

Since his appearance on 'The Saturday Night Show' in April, his condition rapidly deteriorated and he was confined to a wheelchair.

Still, Donal was determined to live out the rest of his limited time as best he could. His dad said he still got up each day at around 3pm and stayed up until 11pm, anxious to spend whatever precious time he had left with family and friends. One of the things that had troubled the selfless teenager was "leaving as little mess as possible" after his death and preparing his family and friends for what was to come.

He continued to receive friends and relatives right up until his last hours.

One of those was Andrew Gray, who had asked his parents if he could come home from boarding school to see his friend one last time.

Hugged

"He hugged him and kissed him goodbye after he spent three or four hours with him. He said it was just amazing but he knew that he wouldn't see him again," said Andrew's father Adrian Gray.

Mr Gray, who is also chairman of Tralee Rugby Club where Donal was a treasured member, was struck by his courage when he visited him in Crumlin Children's Hospital after he had undergone surgery to remove part of his lung in February 2012.

"He was sitting up and just so connected and committed to getting on with his life. The way he handled himself, particularly over the last six or nine months when he knew his cancer was terminal, was inspirational," Mr Gray added.

Principal of CBS The Green in Tralee, Anne O'Callaghan, said the school community was devastated by Donal's death and their hearts went out to his parents.

"I never saw Donal without a smile on his face, even after his diagnosis last October.

"His courage in bearing his illness has been inspiring for both students and teachers. He has touched the lives not just of us in the school community but nationally in his commitment to lessening the problem of suicide."

Irish Independent

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