independent

Saturday 19 April 2014

Donal inspired pals sitting exams, says teacher

Donal Walsh

TEENAGER Donal Walsh inspired his classmates to give their all as they headed into the Leaving Cert, despite battling a terminal illness himself, his teacher revealed.

A month after Donal passed away, his PE teacher Ruairi O'Rahilly shared his memories of the youngster, whose story touched the lives of millions.

Donal passed away from cancer on May 12, but took his illness as an opportunity to stress the value of life to young people who may be considering suicide.

Mr O'Rahilly recalled the "amazing" smile on Donal's face despite the pain he must have been suffering.

"It is difficult to imagine a 16-year-old with such wisdom. Sometimes you throw out the word 'hero'. But once you understand Donal, and the torture he went through, and yet his spirit was unbroken, you realise he really is a lesson to us all."

He believes so many people who may have had suicidal thoughts would have thought again after listening to Donal speak – and his words against suicide were "far more powerful than a teacher or older counsellor saying them".

His four best friends – Cormac, James, Hugh and John – have been doing the Leaving Cert.

Although they remain devastated, Mr O'Rahilly said they remain comforted by the counselling Donal gave them before his death: not to be upset, and continue living life to the full.

Donal started secondary school at 12 so Mr O'Rahilly only knew him from that age. But in that time, the teacher was always amazed at how keen he was to take part in physical activity.

Dreamed

This refusal to give up would have been a natural fit for a spot on the Munster team which he dreamed of turning out for.

Mr O'Rahilly said: "Donal had one of his knees removed, which meant he could not take part in contact sports – but he insisted on playing table tennis. He wasn't wallowing in self-pity, he wasn't going to tell us he could not do it. He was going to do whatever he could."

It was the CBS Tralee teacher who nominated Donal for a Kerry Local Hero award, which brought the brave teen to the nation's attention.

"I am proud that I nominated him for an award. But I would prefer not to have had to do it," he said.

This week he accepted an invite from Moyross parish priest Fr Tony O'Riordan to address the annual novena on the issue of loss and tragedy.

As part of the novena celebrations, members of the community were asked to tie yellow ribbons to the branches of a tree in memory of loved ones. Mr O'Rahilly was no different.

He said that Donal had a strong faith, and was a regular church-goer.

And because of his sunny demeanour, it was never obvious that he was battling a life-threatening condition.

"Donal would always come into school smiling. The rest of us would have small worries compared to him," he said.

At the novena a ribbon was also tied for Moyross man Robert Sheehan, who was shot dead in Bunratty last September.

Irish Independent

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