Tuesday 16 January 2018

Donal spoke from the heart and that's why school kids are listening

Youngsters spreading Walsh's 'Live Life' message on walking tour of country

Donal Walsh
Donal Walsh
Fionnbar Walsh, father of Donal Walsh, holds a t-shirt that was signed by all who took part in the Aviva to Thomond Donal Walsh Live Life Walk
Billy Keane

Billy Keane

The hum starts up in McConville's cafe in Monasterevin.

The volume rises slowly to 'bee' loud. All 45 teenagers from Mercy Mounthawk and CBS The Green of Tralee are on the one road, on the one word.

The chant builds and builds. The kids hit the crescendo. Crockery rattles. Heads turn. Now they can be heard all over the supermarket.

Shoppers in far away aisles abandon trolleys and pile in for a look. One woman asks if this is some foreign political thing. Her friend says no, it's The Rosary in Polish. She says she heard it before at a special mass for Pope John Paul.

The words of the chant are Ya Ya Ya Ya Ya Ya Toure, Kolo Toure and so on and on, like as in Abbeyfeale, Knocknagoshel and Duagh. It's all about the soccer-playing brothers. There is no hidden meaning. The chant is just fun and a thanks for lunch.

The teenage chanters were walking down the middle of Ireland for Donal Walsh, the crusading teenager who died last year from cancer.

They were going from rugby club to rugby club and school to school to raise awareness and funds for The Donal Walsh Live Life foundation. Their message is simple. Live life.

These ambassadors for their generation are polite, funny, caring and together. There's great hope for Ireland. These are the days of the kind word.

Donal played rugby and Gaelic football. I saw him play. Donal was a good player. He had a prosthetic knee fitted and that was the end of his playing, but it didn't stop him cycling or coaching. His dad Finbarr rides Donal's bike now. Up and down the wet and windswept road from Dublin to Limerick. Finbarr, who is near to exhaustion, stops at schools to deliver his son's message.


The dad promised his dying boy he would spread the word and he has kept his word.

The rugby clubs of Wanderers, Cill Dara, Naas, Portlaoise, Roscrea, Nenagh and Old Crescent were incredibly generous hosts. There was food and lodgings, but above all there was friendship and solidarity. Jimmy Dennison, who played in the centre on the famous day in 1978 when Munster beat the All Blacks, organised a ceili with his school and the Kerry students. Brendan Foley, second-row that day, walked with the kids.

"The Ceili was like Irish college," they said. "Brilliant." The walkers danced all night, after 20 miles of walking that day. One of Donal's school mates, Sean Parnell, played guitar and had the crowd singing. He's a direct descendant of Charles Stewart. His ancestor was surely prophetic when he spoke "no man has the right to fix the boundary to the march of a nation."

Sport knows no boundaries. Friendships are made and you always have someone to talk to if times get tough. Our good friend Joan Freeman of Pieta House is working with the GAA on a Mind our Men campaign. Joan asks coaches and parents to look out for a youngster who may be in trouble. Last week a temporary Pieta House was opened up in Castleisland in Co Kerry. We will have a bigger and better facility in time, but this is a start. Please call if you need help. The number is 066-7163660.

There were tears from the audiences every day when Finbarr spoke and when young Danny Cournane, the Kerry Maori, performed the Haka, just as he did at Donal's funeral. The kids from three schools in Portlaoise and in Rathangan were spellbound. There wasn't a fidget or a whisper or a cough. If a paper plane had been thrown it would have roared like a 747 such was the respect given by the students.

Donal's message is getting through because he spoke from his heart in the language of his times and his peers.

Sport kept Donal going. We met 16-year-old Emer O'Sullivan in Scoil Chriost Ri in Portlaoise. Emer is on the extended Irish wheelchair soccer squad. She's a lovely unassuming girl "who goes zoom on the pitch," as her friends explained with swaying Usain Bolt hand gestures. "Emer flies around," says one. Another says "she's soooo nice. Emer never says anything about herself. Never." "She's soooo brilliant," went an excited chorus of her fans. And they are soooo right.

That night Jay Galvin from Tralee RFC, who did a massive amount of organising all week, had the air let out of his mattress for alleged snoring. Finbarr is the chief suspect. Hailstones machine-gunned corrugated club roofs. There's coughing. Some of the walkers have colds. The kids sleep on floors and mattresses to save money for the charity. They never complain.

We lunched after the chant in Monasterevin with 15-year-old Jonathan Myers from Tralee, who spent six months with his pal Donal in Ronald McDonald house while they were being treated for brain tumours at the Crumlin Children's Hospital.

He's a fine cut of a lad and has grown to six feet three. Jonathan plays basketball and Gaelic football. "Donal was very good to me in Crumlin and after, when I came back home to school after Crumlin, he always had time for you. He'd stop when we'd meet in the hall and ask how I was."

Donal lived his message. Finbarr may not know his son was nicknamed Donal Doughnuts by a four-year-old he befriended in Ronald McDonald House. Donal made doughnuts for all the kids who were going through a very tough time. The four-year-old died around the same time as Donal.

Jonathan went through his struggle too, but it didn't leave him in any way bitter or sad. He's making the most of his life. He's a lovely lad who has innocence and openness about him that takes you in immediately.

Is he tired then after the trek from Dublin to Limerick? "Not at all," he says. "I was bored on Sunday last when it was all over. I'd do it all over again this week if I was asked. Ah, but I loved every minute of the trip."

"How's the health now?" we ask.

"It's going great. Going great. I'm feeling fine," says Jonathan. "There's a small bit of the cancer still left, but it's going great. I'm playing sport and that's what I was aiming for in Crumlin Hospital.'"

It was the worst time of the year for a road trip. We all have our bad days, but Jonathan and his pals brought us along the road. Just being with the boys and girls was a cure in itself and, for sure, they muzzled that cross old Black Dog.

Donal Walsh lives.

Irish Independent

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