Legacy of Irish teenager who inspired a nation lives on 10 years after his death
Only a few weeks before he died, 16-year-old Donal Walsh went on national television in Ireland to remind people of the value of life. He passed away on May 12, 2013. Today the Donal Walsh Live Life Foundation continues to promote life. | Credit: EWTN News
Donal Walsh was tired of seeing young people end their lives while he was fighting each day for his.
Born and raised in County Kerry, Ireland, Walsh was diagnosed with bone cancer in his tibia at the age of 12. He endured nine months of chemotherapy and an operation to give him a prosthetic knee. After two years the cancer returned, this time to his lung. The young boy underwent surgery again to have half of his lung removed and endured more chemotherapy.
In October 2012, Walsh was diagnosed for a third — and final — time with tumors in five different locations in his body.
During his final months, Walsh took to writing about his battle with cancer and how his faith allowed him to persevere in what he called “climbing God’s mountains.” He also wrote about his frustration at seeing a rise in teenage suicide.
It was then that he decided to go on national television to encourage young people to value life.
With only a few weeks left to live, Walsh went on the Irish talk show “The Saturday Night Show” with Brendan O’Connor hoping to emphasize the value of life by sharing his own story.
“If I’m meant to be a symbol for people to appreciate life — it might not be just suicide — but just to appreciate life more in general, then I’d be happy to die if that’s what I’m dying for,” Walsh said during his television appearance.
Walsh passed away four weeks later on May 12, 2013, at the age of 16.
He spoke for 19 minutes, and those 19 minutes inspired a country. Months later, the coroner of County Kerry reported a decrease in suicides after Walsh spoke out.
Ten years later, his legacy lives on.
On May 11 of this year, more than 2,000 Irish students gathered at the Knock Basilica and Shrine in County Mayo, Ireland, to honor Walsh’s memory. The students listened to several speakers who spoke about different issues that affect the world today, especially mental health.
Walsh’s parents, Elma and Fionnbar, were also in attendance.
“When we were told he was terminal, we turned around and started to say, ‘Why us?’ And he [Donal] changed his question to, ‘Why not me?’” Fionnbar Walsh recalled in an interview at the event with EWTN News In Depth, which aired June 2.
“Donal was very upset for the first few days, but it only lasted a few days,” Elma Walsh added. “And he decided he wasn’t going to let cancer dictate. Whatever was left of his life, he wanted to do something.”
His mother shared that he had a “remarkable” faith. He loved to pray the rosary and the Divine Mercy Chaplet. Walsh asked his mother to ensure he received holy Communion every day and that he die with a “clean spirit.”
“It [his faith] was kind of innate to him. It was just in him … It’s hard to explain. It was just in him. It was just part of Donal,” she explained.
After Walsh’s death, his parents started the Donal Walsh Live Life Foundation, which has raised more than half a million euros to date for various charities, all of which promote life. And once a year, students meet at the Basilica of Knock to celebrate Mass, to be inspired and encouraged by guest speakers, and to be reminded of the value of life.
“I think a lot of people would be very afraid of the idea of terminal illness, but his bravery — he was able to endure through so much hardship and still have faith, and that’s inspiring to people,” said Adam Walsh (no relation), a student in attendance.
Another student, Anastasia Mullen, added: “I think that it is very inspirational. He really creates this beacon of hope for the youth — just keeps hope alive.”
Elma Walsh shared that she hopes the students in attendance will leave knowing “that they’re loved. To know that their lives are precious and delicate and nobody knows what tomorrow will bring but just to appreciate things they have in life.”