Early intervention is key, says mother of suicide campaigner

Donal Walsh LiveLife Foundation has raised nearly €350,000 since teenager died in 2013

Donal Walsh, a 16-year-old anti-suicide campaigner from Tralee. Photograph: Kerry’s Eye Newspaper/PA Wire

Donal Walsh, a 16-year-old anti-suicide campaigner from Tralee. Photograph: Kerry’s Eye Newspaper/PA Wire


Early intervention is key in the prevention of suicide, says the mother of a terminally ill teenager who made a plea against suicide four years ago.

Elma Walsh’s 16-year-old son, Donal, made a television appeal on the Saturday Night Show in 2013 after a private piece he wrote was published by accident.

Speaking on Saturday morning to Brendan O’Connor on RTÉ’s Marian Finucane show, Ms Walsh said there had been no suicide of a person under 20 in south Kerry in the time since Donal’s appeal and suicide rates among under-30s had also dropped dramatically in the same region. She cited information she had received from the outgoing coroner this weekend.

Donal, who would have been 21 on June 15th last, came to prominence when he spoke of the anger he felt at young people choosing to take their own life, while he who wanted to play rugby and do so many things was under “a death sentence” and had no choice.

“I just didn’t want them to see suicide as a solution to any of life’s problems,” he told O’Connor, the host of the show, in 2013. He said it “killed” him to see people taking their own lives when there was help everywhere.

“Appreciate what you have, know that there are always other options and help in always there,” Donal had said in his written piece.

He told Mr O’Connor was happy to die even if it meant just making people appreciate life more , and this was God’s plan for him.

The Donal Walsh LiveLife Foundation, set up in his memory, by his family, has raised almost €350,000 euro for hospices, and projects, and facilities for teenagers in hospitals. Every Pieta House facility now has a Donal Walsh room for teenagers, Ms Walsh said.

The fundraising done for those organisations was “organic,” and the family never asked anyone to fundraise; instead, teenagers themselves were effectively running the foundation. Eight hundred people turned out for Donal’s anniversary mass at St John’s Church in May in Tralee, where his funeral mass was held.

Next year, Donal’s anniversary mass is being held in Knock, said Ms Walsh.

She said Donal’s funeral, which brought Tralee to a standstill, was designed not to glamorise death, but to show that death was final, and there was no coming back.

Hundreds of young people were at the cemetery and saw the earth being shovelled on the coffin.

“We wanted to show you don’t come back from the dead,” said Ms Walsh.

Donal still has a huge following on social media and among the public at large, she said. Bus loads of people visit Donal’s shed at the rear of the family home in Blennerville.

Ms Walsh tells people: “He was no saint!” but recognises Donal is different things to other people and was special to people in different ways.

She recalled helping him to forge an identity card to experience a night club at the age of 16 because he would never see 18.

Donal had a strong belief and did not fear death, but he also very much wanted to live, she said.

Her experience interacting with the foundation, which is geared to teenagers, and with Pieta House is that intervention is needed at a younger and younger stage.

“Early intervention is the key. . . and it’s getting younger and younger,” she said.

Children “eight and nine years old” are now clients of Pieta House and the intervention is needed now at primary school level, she said, adding that the ages between 12 and 16 are particularly vulnerable.

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