ONE of the biggest stories of the year in Kerry, and indeed Ireland, was the inspirational story of Donal Walsh and his battle with cancer.
Donal's valiant battle with cancer and his tireless efforts to raise cancer awareness and money to provide better facilities for young people in Irish hospitals was already well known to people in Tralee and across much of Kerry. However, in early April he was catapulted to national attention when he appeared on RTE to discuss his illness, life and philosophy.
Anyone lucky enough to have known Donal Walsh would likely have expected the impact he would make when he appeared on Brendan O'Connor's chat show on April 6.
The passionate, articulate and courageous young man from Blennerville was simply astounding on the show as he freely discussed his battle with cancer and delivered a passionate life affirming anti suicide message that struck a powerful chord with everyone watching.
In Tralee, and doubtless at breakfast tables across the length and breadth of the country, the following morning brave young Donal Walsh and his message dominated conversation.
In the weeks that followed his message spread further afield, helped in no small part by a stunningly honest column he penned for the Sunday Independent in which he gave an even greater insight into his life and reiterated his simple but powerful message to live life and love it.
If you have not read Donal Walsh's story in the Sunday Independent go online, find it, read it and absorb it. It is a powerful piece of writing and a fitting testament to an an amazingly inspirational young man.
Donal Walsh's message, which spread quickly across Ireland, also made its way across the globe. The power of the Internet bringing Donal's appearance on RTE and his writing to a global audience that spread from New Zealand and Asia to Africa and the United States.
Of course Donal's fondness for twitter (on which he maintained a constant and often humorous presence) also helped him in spreading his message.
When Donal appeared on RTE he knew he had only a short time left and he decided to use it to both spread his message and wring every last moment of enjoyment that he could from his life, his family and friends.
Sadly the day Donal knew was coming, and which his wonderful and close knit family had always dreaded, came in mid May. On Sunday May 12, little over month after he came to national attention, he lost his battle with cancer.
Everyone knew that the 16 year old CBS student had touched the nation and the world but the depth of felling he generated became truly and incredibly apparent in the days immediately after his death.
Tralee came to standstill for his funeral. Crowds of thousands lined the streets united in grief for one of Tralee's greatest sons and a young man of such tremendous potential who was taken from the world far too early.
The funeral was an event unparalleled in Tralee and Kerry for decades. Donal's family and friends played a magnificent and moving tribute to the brave teenager who, wise beyond his years, inspired a nation.
At the ceremony's end those present bore witness to a stunningly emotional scene. As Donal's Munster Rugby heroes shouldered his coffin Daniel Cournane, a boy Donal had coached at Tralee Rugby Club, performed a searingly emotional funeral Haka piercing the air with a roar of pure, raw and powerful anguish and grief that few who heard will ever forget.
In the months since Donal Walsh passed, he has remained in the public memory. His powerful story and message continues to resonate and inspire. Donal and his message have been credited with saving many lives that could have been cut short by suicide and the LiveLife foundation set up in his honour is raising thousands of Euro for needy causes.
Donal Walsh was a truly inspirational figure and anyone lucky enough to have known him should feel truly privileged. He is one of the true greats to ever emerge from Kerry and his name, message and legacy are sure to live on for many, many years to come.