Monday 14 October 2019

Thousands line streets in tribute to boy who restored town's pride

Majella O'Sullivan

Majella O'Sullivan

A HERO who had taught others the meaning of life was how Donal Walsh was remembered at his Requiem Mass.

In one of the biggest funerals ever witnessed in his native Tralee, Co Kerry, thousands of people lined the streets and packed into St John's Church to say goodbye to the inspirational teen, who was buried just one month shy of his 17th birthday.

Figures from the world of GAA and rugby, the two sports adored by Donal, joined his heartbroken parents, Fionnbar and Elma, his sister Jema (18), grandmother Mary, uncles and closest friends who all played a key role in the celebration.

Donal lost his battle with lung cancer at the family home in Blennerville, Co Kerry, on Sunday. He had come to the attention of the nation when he appealed to other young people to cherish life and to seek help if they were feeling suicidal.

Munster and Ireland rugby international, Paul O'Connell called to the Walsh home in Blennerville last Sunday, visiting his friend just hours before he died.

Yesterday, Mr O'Connell, who's training for the Lions tour, was represented by 26 members of the Munster squad, including Ronan O'Gara, Damian Varley, Donncha O'Callaghan and Simon Zebo, who carried Donal's coffin from the church and other team-mates who formed a guard of honour, distinct in their dark suits against a field of grey, made up of the 610 students from CBS The Green.

President Michael D Higgins was represented by his aide de camp, Col Brendan McAndrew.

Also among the mourners was Kerry footballer, Paul Galvin, who carried pen and paper to the altar, one of the symbols representing Donal's life, his love of writing.

Students from all the other schools in the town also took part in the guard of honour that lined the Mall and Castle Street as the cortege made its way to the church on foot.

Members of the public stood solemnly, anxious to pay their respects to a teenager who has restored a town's pride in itself.

Grown men cried openly, unable to hide their tears, while teenagers comforted each other, trying to make sense of the loss.

Fr Francis Nolan, the chief celebrant of the mass, urged young people to heed Donal's message, which would be his lasting legacy.

"For all of us Donal is a hero, the young 16-year-old who taught us the meaning of life and not to fear death," Fr Nolan said.

Donal wrote he had "grown fully in both body and mind by climbing God's mountains" and yesterday those words were recalled by one of his best friends, Eoin Walsh.

Donal shunned praise or compliments, claiming he had only ever fought for himself and was only kind because his religion taught him to be.

"I've climbed God's mountains, faced many struggles for my life and dealt with so much loss," Donal wrote.

"And as much as I'd love to go around to every fool on this planet and open their eyes to the mountains that surround them in life, I can't.

"But maybe if I shout from mine, they'll pay attention."

And yesterday, the world paid attention.

Irish Independent

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