Irish News

Wednesday 23 July 2014

Heartbreak as teen who touched the nation dies

Majella O'Sullivan

Published 13/05/2013|04:00

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A TEENAGER who inspired a nation has lost his battle with cancer.

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Donal Walsh (16) passed away peacefully at his family home in Blennerville, Co Kerry, yesterday, surrounded by his family, his dad Fionnbar, his mother Elma and his sister Jemma.

Donal's heartbroken father said his son was now at peace. "His pain is over now," Mr Walsh said.

Donal came to national prominence when he wrote a letter on suicide, which was later published.

He used his final weeks to talk about suicide and to make a heartfelt plea to other young people to treasure life and to seek help if they were feeling suicidal. He said: "If I'm meant to be a symbol for people to appreciate life, then I'll be happy to die."

He had spoken publicly of his burning desire to live – but also of his hope that his death would make people appreciate life more.

In a moving interview, the extraordinary 16-year-old spoke about his illness and his love of life in his bid to help stop suicide among his young peers.

He had previously told the Irish Independent he feels "nothing but anger" when he hears of a young person taking their own life.

"It kills me because I am here fighting for my life for the third time. That does make me angry and I'm not going to lie."

The rugby fanatic said: "So please, as a 16-year-old who has no say in his death sentence, who has no choice in the pain he is about to cause and who would take any chance at even a few more months on this planet, appreciate what you have, know that there are always other options and help is always there."

He worked to highlight his anti-suicide message right up to the end.

Just weeks before his death, he made a recording of his anti-suicide message, which is going to be circulated to schools around the country.

Junior minister with responsibility for mental health, Kathleen Lynch, contacted the Walsh family personally to ask Donal if he'd be interested in recording his message for posterity.

Fighting

The inspirational youngster agreed and the video has already been shot and will be used by the Department of Health in its bid to tackle Ireland's high suicide rate. Since the age of 12, Donal had battled cancer three times, but he was told in October it was terminal and he finally succumbed to lung cancer yesterday.

The teenager defied the odds for a long time, with medics telling him in October to celebrate Christmas early.

He wrote on his Twitter page that he was "fighting for months but will take days".

Such was the effect the teenager had in recent months, a website that provides support to suicidal youths recorded a four-fold increase in the number of teens seeking help after Donal made his appeal.

SpunOut.ie spokesman Ian Power said traffic surged on its website, with over 80 teenagers logging on to the website seeking help for suicidal thoughts.

"It's definitely down to him, no doubt about it," Mr Power said.

Last night, tributes poured in from around the country from those who had been inspired by the strength shown by the terminally ill teenager.

Former Cork goalkeeper Donal Og Cusack wrote: "Sad to hear about this passing... inspirational outlook... lesson to all of us... live while we can."

Irish hypnotist Keith Barry said he hoped his own children have the "spirit and energy he had".

Irish Independent

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