TEENAGER Donal Walsh, who was last night posthumously named Rehab Young Person of the Year and has been hailed a hero for his grit, determination and love of life, was directly responsible for the drop in suicide rates in south Kerry in the past six months, south Kerry coroner Terence Casey has said.
Donal's parents, Fionnbar and Elma, who collected the award on Donal's behalf, told the Sunday Independent that Mr Casey said that between Donal talking to Brendan O'Connor on RTE's Saturday Night Show last March until two weeks ago, there were no suicides in south Kerry.
In the past two weeks, there have been three suicides in the region, said Mr Walsh, adding "and it's about time we put Donal's message back out there".
Mrs Walsh said there was a "big void" since her son died of cancer in May. "He was always on the go," she said, "and now he's putting us on the go with his fundraising and the Donal Walsh #LiveLife Foundation."
Since Donal first began fundraising, more than €160,000 has been raised in his name. The public response has "just been incredible", said his proud parents.
"We've asked for nothing and we've had people who've come with everything," said Mrs Walsh.
His mother also told the Sunday Independent that people come up to her in the street or in restaurants with donations.
"Donal threw a stone in a lake and it became a tidal wave," said Mr Walsh, speaking of the effect his son's story has had on people across Ireland, the UK and worldwide.
On hearing of Donal's life and death, a secondary school in Australia dedicated its senior student of the year award to him.
The Walshes receive a flood of mail every day from people of all ages and from all walks of life. Mrs Walsh spoke of letters from "80- and 90-year-old people in remote parts of Ireland and from 14- and 15-year-olds who had decided against taking their lives as a result of Donal's message".
Mr Walsh said Donal had spent only two days in bed throughout his entire illness, and had lived life to the full. "That was his message, that's what he did," he said.
He said his son had "started a conversation that nobody else was willing to. He was in a unique position to do it because he was sentenced and he knew his time was limited."
Grainne Seoige, who presented last night's awards at the Citywest Hotel, Conference and Event Centre in Dublin, described Donal as a "courageous and brave boy" who had "wanted to make a difference because he would have done anything to have a life".
Donal's parents, who go to New York today to meet with Crumlin's Children's Hospital's fundraising group there, described the days since his death as bittersweet, "but even though he's greatly missed, his legacy lives on".
- JOYCE FEGAN