Mourners at the funeral of inspirational teenager Donal Walsh yesterday heard his mother Elma call on world leaders to increase funding for research to find a cure for cancer.
Thousands of mourners had gathered in Donal's home town of Tralee, Co Kerry, to pay their respects to the 16-year-old who died on Sunday after four years battling the disease.
They applauded loudly as his mother paid an emotional tribute to her son as she, her husband Fionnbar and their daughter Jema prepared to say their last goodbyes.
Addressing the 1,200 mourners who thronged St John’s Church in Tralee and as many again who lined the streets, Ms Walsh spoke of her son’s passionate and firmly-held beliefs. She noted he had touched the nation with his comments urging young people thinking of ending their lives to seek help while contrasting their choice with what was facing him.
“While today Donal is known for his stand on suicide, it is important to remember that Donal died from one of the biggest modern-day killers: cancer,” she said. “While suffering this disease, Donal was an ambassador for cancer awareness and an advocate at national and international levels for more research to find a cure.
"If he were alive today, he would be the first to support me in asking the upcoming G8 summit to increase funding to find possible cures for cancer."
Earlier mourners heard local curate Fr Francis Nolan speak of Donal's legacy as he urged young people experiencing emotional difficulties to heed Donal's advice and seek help.
“Suicide is not the answer to life’s problems. Do not be afraid to make that call and to reach out for help that is available to you,” he said. Donal also left another legacy, he added, in that he recognised that even in the greatest crisis there is opportunity and he had exemplified this with his own generosity.
“As Donal went through his treatments and spent time in hospitals, he saw their needs for funds and set about raising money,” Fr Nolan said. “This was truly amazing that a young man could set aside his own pain and only think so generously about other people.” He added that Donal had helped raise more than €50,000 for Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital in Crumlin.
He had a great love of Gaelic football and rugby, and Kerry footballer Paul Galvin and Leinster flanker Shane Jennings were among the mourners.
Donal was a huge Munster fan and forged a bond with the current squad including Paul O'Connell. O'Connell, who spoke about how Donal's resilience had helped inspire Munster to beat Harlequins, had visited Donal in Tralee before leaving for training with the British and Irish Lions in London.
About 20 other members of the current squad, including captain Doug Howlett and team manager Niall O'Donovan, travelled to Tralee yesterday to pay their respects. Six members of the team – Ronan O'Gara, Donncha O'Callaghan, Felix Jones, Damien Varley, Simon Zebo and Tommy O'Donnell – shouldered Donal's coffin from the church.
Lining the avenue leading from the church were his schoolmates at the Green CBS in Tralee and his clubmates from Tralee Rugby Club who together formed a guard of honour. Mourners lined Tralee's streets as Donal was taken to Rath Cemetery where, in the shadow of the Slieve Mish mountains, he was laid to rest beside his grandparents.