Rugby legends arrive as Donal's dad shares journey
Published 13/09/2013 | 05:00
HE was in familiar surroundings with some of the people who have shared his family's journey over the past five years.
But for Fionnbar Walsh, his wife Elma and daughter Jema, it's been a difficult week of anniversaries and poignant reminders of their son and brother Donal.
Standing on the stage of the hall at CBS The Green in Tralee, while addressing 600 of his son's peers, Mr Walsh recalled that it was in this building five years ago this week he had to utter the words to the principal: "My son has cancer."
Donal had been in the school only three days.
Over the next four years, he fought cancer three times, finally losing his battle on May 12 at the age of 17.
Yesterday, Mr Walsh welcomed the Cross Rugby Legends on their Malin to Mizen charity cycle to raise money for cancer research.
Later today he will join the Legends and lead a group of cyclists, including Donal's principal Anne O'Callaghan, teachers Helen Hayes, Mark Ryall, Robert Flaherty and Des Healy and four of his closest friends – Cormac Coffey, James O'Connor, Hugh Stuart and John Kelly.
"It's hard to believe that it was only this time last year he cycled with these guys and that was after an operation to remove part of his lung in February," Mr Walsh said.
"He got his bike in the middle of July and by September he had worked up to doing 60km on his cycles."
Less than two weeks after taking part in the Cross Legions Charity Cycle, Donal had an accident while out cycling and injured his shoulder.
When it was slow to heal, further examination revealed the cancer had returned.
"It's nine months to the day we were told Donal was going to die and six months since one of his teachers called to the house to say he'd nominated him for a 'Local Hero' award.
"Four months ago today, we said goodbye," his dad said.
Munster and Ireland rugby hero Mick Galwey led a group of more than 70 cyclists. which included Australian great David Campese and former All-Blacks' captain Anton Oliver, to Donal's old school.
Cross Rugby Legends Cycle patron Paul Wallace said: "This is a very special part of our trip and it's great that we can come back and pay our respects to Donal who was an inspiration to all of us."