Sixteen-year-old Donal Walsh had an insatiable appetite to #livelife. He dreamed of playing for Munster and travelling the world. At age 12 he was diagnosed with a tumour in his femur. It was the beginning of a four-year battle that would see the Kerry teenager refuse to be a cancer statistic, and it would also see him leaving a legacy that would help people across the country to understand the value of life. He was to save lives as he lost his own. Growing up in Blennerville – just outside Tralee town in Co. Kerry – Donal was, according to his family, an ordinary young teenager.
Throughout his battle with cancer, Donal inspired everyone around him – particularly his friends. He faced his treatment with dignity and surpassed all challenges and milestones set by doctors and medical staff on his road to recovery. He studied for his Junior Certificate in hospital. He became disillusioned and angry with some of the conditions that patients have to put up with at a time when they are so vulnerable, so he began fundraising for Crumlin Hospital, raising over €150,000 and also campaigning for a Teen Room for older patients. In periods of good health, he got back on his bike and relished the feeling exercise gave him.
He protected his friends from some of the harsh realities of cancer, feeling that they deserved to enjoy their youth and not be burdened by life’s dark side. When the disease that had stolen his youth struck for the third and final time, Donal was forced to look at life from a perspective that no teenager should ever experience. However, Donal never feared death: he had faith and drew strength from his spirituality.
Frustrated by the epidemic of youth suicide that was taking a grip of the country, Donal came to national prominence after his appearance on the Saturday Night Show with Brendan O’Connor in April 2013, when he expressed his views, exhibiting extraordinary selflessness and courage. Donal felt he had to challenge his peers to live life rather than consider suicide. “I feel that I am trying as best I can to prepare my family and friends for what’s about to come and leave as little a mess as possible… If I’m meant to be a symbol for people to appreciate life, then I’ll be happy to die!” Donal urged people to realise that suicide is a permanent response to a temporary set of circumstances and that help is available everywhere. He wanted people to understand how precious life is. “Suicide is not the answer to life’s problems. Life is a precious gift, which is irreplaceable. There is no such thing as a meaningless moment or a meaningless life.” Donal’s words caught the attention of the nation. Here was a young man facing death who, instead of expressing bitterness, anger and resentment, showed incredible bravery, strength and determination. Sadly only a few short weeks later, Donal lost his battle with cancer and he passed away on 12th May 2013.
5th Year students at Castletroy College watched Donal’s appearance on the Saturday night show and the documentary about Donal’s life “My Story” during Religion class and were touched by his courage, his positive attitude to life and how he showed the importance of valuing life. Gráinne 5 decided in January that they wanted to do something positive, practical but fun to promote Donal’s anti suicide message within their school community. They organised a series of events and held a “Donal Walsh #Live Life week” at Castletroy College this week to coincide with Donal’s first anniversary. The event was supported by Donal’s parents, Fionnbar & Elma Walsh and the Donal Walsh Foundation.
Some of the events students organised – presentations from guest speakers, a student and staff fancy dress basketball match refereed by former Basketball & Rugby International Joy Neville, the students were victorious on the day narrowly clinching a win but First Prize for the best costume went to maths Teacher Edel O’Brien, The Great Troy Bake off was hosted by Richard Lynch from ILOVELIMERICK.COM, with Science Teacher Eithne Vaughan claiming the coveted title with her vanilla ice cream sundae cupcakes. There was also a transition year hockey match refereed by Naoimi Carroll, Irish Hockey International and a visit to the movies morning. Fionnbar Walsh, Donal’s father visited Castletroy College on Monday May 12th,on Donal’s first anniversary and spoke to all Senior Cycle students about his son, his message and his legacy.
Students also organised an information morning about “understanding depression, anxiety and stress in young people” and produced an information leaflet “It’s good to talk”.
The students wish to thank all the school community for their co-operation during the week, Principal Mr. Flanagan for his support, their sponsors: Castletroy Park Hotel, Brews Brothers Castletroy, O’Connells Bar & Restaurant, Annacotty, Mark & all in the school canteen(The School Food Company) & Richard Lynch & his team from ILOVELIMERICK.
“I’ve climbed God’s mountains, faced many struggles for my life and dealt with so much loss. 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.” (Donal Walsh)