Monday 23 September 2019

Donal Walsh by his mother: remembered five years on

Five years ago next Saturday, on May 12, 2013, 16-year-old Donal Walsh passed away. In his young life, and especially his final months, Donal, who had terminal cancer, had more impact than most of us will in much longer lives. Through his appearance on 'The Saturday Night Show' and his writings in this newspaper, he made simple but powerful points about the value of life, faith, conditions in hospital for teens and young people's mental health. Today, in LIFE, we honour and remember Donal. His mother Elma Walsh, who carries on his work, writes about his legacy, and on the following pages we reprint some of Donal's writing, so that his message will not be forgotten

Donal and parents
Donal and parents
Donal and John
Donal and friends
Donal and Joanne
Donal and pals

Elma Walsh

'I was told to do some crazy things, but in the end I chose to be Donal, because when I made up my mind, either way, I was going to have to leave him behind, and I wanted to appreciate everything he had as a normal teenager. I've met some people who have no idea how lucky their lives are. And I wasn't going to finish mine without appreciating what I had." - Donal Walsh

Who'd believe this came from a 16-year-old boy five years ago? But this boy knew what it was to suffer and not just do without gadgets, money and the latest clothes, but to suffer the pains of cancer. He knew what he would be missing out in life; he knew his death would be a slow and gradual one. Donal was fully aware of what was going on in his life. But thankfully he had a strong faith in God. While it was a simple faith, I think in its simplicity it was strong.

After being told he would have only months left to live, he said: "I didn't have much trouble letting it sink in because I still believed that if this is what God wants me to do, then this is what I will do."

Every day we miss Donal - his cheeky smile, his quick wit, his banter, the wrecking of the house and, more recently, wondering what his full potential would have been if he was given the chance of life. But as it was said to us at the time, maybe he reached his full potential.

The ways of this world are strange and while Siobhan Russell [from The Saturday Night Show production team] or [presenter] Brendan O'Connor will never take credit for what Donal said that night on RTE, if they did not ask him on to The Saturday Night Show, some lives would not have been saved; some families across Ireland do not have to suffer the consequences of suicide; the quality of some lives have improved; faith and prayer have come into other people's lives. This I know because of the letters we have received over the years.

Five years ago, we had no intention of setting up the Donal Walsh #LiveLife Foundation, but because of all the money sent to us, we had to do something worthwhile with it, and so the foundation was born.

While Donal was speaking to Brendan, he mentioned three things: teenage suicide; the conditions of hospitals for teenagers; and his faith, so this is what the foundation is about.

Happily, we are very proud to say, with the help all the donations received, we were able to give out over €370,000 to various teenage projects throughout Ireland.

We do not take a wage or salary from the foundation, and we don't charge a fee. Never in a million years did we think five years ago how much the path of our lives would change. Fionnbar and I have travelled the length and breadth of this country and parts of England several times over, all because we are asked to talk about our son and the legacy he has left behind.

What Donal said is as real today as it was in 2013. The scourge of suicide in Ireland is not going away - while it is reduced in parts of the country, it is still a huge problem for Ireland. There is still a lot of work to be done for the vulnerable in our society, and especially the vulnerable teenagers.

Fionnbar, myself and Jema are very proud of what Donal said in those 19 minutes to Brendan. While we know if he had kept his mouth shut we would have a quiet life, we are honoured to be part of his legacy, and so very proud of the impact he has had on ordinary people's lives.

Please continue to read Donal's story and hopefully it will continue to inspire a new generation and, dare I say it, even an older generation, to appreciate the life they have while and when they have it.

Donal's anniversary will be celebrated at Knock with events for TY and 5th year students, followed by mass. Booking essential, tel: (094) 938-8100. Other events include Spa School Fun Run, May 20; Mount Brandon climb, September 23 and Film Festival every February. To donate to or learn about the foundation fundraisers around the country, see

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