Donal reclaimed by his own on 17th birthday
Family, friends and neighbours pay poignant tribute to teenager's wisdom and philosophy
Donal Walsh was reclaimed by his people yesterday on what would have been, what was, his 17th birthday.
It was family, friends and neighbours, those who had known him before he was famous, as his father, Fionnbar, would say, who gathered in St John's Church in Tralee for his month's mind. Through his message about the value of life, Donal became public property these past few months. Yesterday, he and his memory came home to his own.
Not that Donal's family and loved ones don't take huge comfort in the message of hope that Donal sent around the world. His neighbours speak proudly of how he has touched people as far away as Australia and America.
Fr Francis Nolan, who officiated at the Mass, talked about how consoling a month's mind Mass can be in general. But, in the midst of Donal's huge loss, he said, he could sense the beautiful gift of resignation. Donal's death enabled the young man's wisdom and philosophy to go further afield, Fr Nolan said, especially to young people.
The priest speculated that God sometimes only allows something bad to happen for a greater good. And no doubt there was light that came out of the darkness of death. It gave hope to and consoled the bereaved yesterday in Tralee.
You could have mistaken the four lads who read out the prayers of the faithful for a boy band. These were the four lads Donal described as his brothers: his best friends James O'Connor, Cormac Coffey, John Kelly and Hugh Stuart.
Today, this band of brothers was missing its fifth member. Their youth and casual clothes reminded us that, for all that Donal Walsh was a very special boy, he was just an ordinary lad, too. He should have been here, celebrating his 17th birthday with his mates. Though, at times, it felt a bit like a 17th birthday. There were 17 candles in front of the altar to symbolise, as Fr Nolan said, "17 years of Donal's well-lived, full life, an example to each and every one of us".
We sat and listened throughout to a few of Donal's favourite songs. Songs that meant a lot to him. Like My God by The Coronas: "My God has kept me safe, my God has kept me brave . . . my God will keep me warm, my God will fight my war . . . my God will guide me home, my God make me bold, my God I'm not alone and anything at all."
And Seventeen by Simon Webb: "Seventeen, I was living life, chasing dreams and my hopes were high. Trying to get around my fear of when and where do I go from here."
Donal never made it to 17 to chase his dreams, but he knew where he was going from here. He had a firm faith that he was going to his God. Fionnbar and Elma can draw consolation from that, and from the fact that Donal's simple message still rings out, and from their continuation of Donal's charity work. They can draw comfort too, Fr Nolan said, from the fact that grief never gets worse. It always lessens.
Both her grief and the consolation of Donal's extraordinary impact bubbled under yesterday as his mother Elma read a reflection on Donal, ending with the words: "He has left us with a legacy, to be all that we can be, so any time you feel you can't go on, just think of the boy from Blennerville, Tralee."
They will be well consoled and looked after by the friends and neighbours who filled the church, too. Fionnbar and Elma are held in high regard. Any mention of what a special boy Donal Walsh was is always followed by a mention of how special his parents are.
There was a calm and a brave face on them yesterday that belied the sadness of the past few months. Because special or not, no one deserves this. No one deserves to celebrate their son's 17th birthday in a church while he lies nearby in his grave. As Elma said with eloquent simplicity the first time I met her, it's not fair.