A conversation with Dónal Walsh’s Dad

I had a very long chat with Fionnbar Walsh on the phone a few weeks ago. He’s a really nice man. You would probably know him better, and he says everyone does, as Dónal Walsh‘s Dad.

I’m not a journalist and it was not an interview. I didn’t record our conversation and I didn’t take notes, so really this is more about my impressions of a most remarkable man and confirmation that apples don’t fall far from trees. I was very nervous, at least at first, but somehow I only called Fionnbar “Dónal” once. I was mortified. He laughed like a drain and said everyone does it. He said he takes it as a great compliment.

I had been very impressed by Dónal Walsh, as indeed most of the country was, when he appeared on “The Saturday Night Show” but I had misgivings that his message about suicide was, perhaps, simplistic and accidentally hurtful to people who are suffering from depression.

This is what Dónal said:

“I just didn’t want them to see suicide as a solution to any of life’s problems. It hurts me to see them think about it… to see it among their friends. But it kills me because I’m here fighting for my life for the third time … I’ve no say in anything, and I’m still here waking up every day. And they think that they have a problem, and this might be a solution. That does make me angry, and I’m not going to lie about it. I’ve nothing against people with mental illness. But these people have to realise that there is help.”

I tweeted a link to a well-argued (if, in hindsight, overblown and nastily personal) blog piece arguing against Dónal’s comments. Somebody took exception and included the Dónal Walsh LiveLife Twitter account in his reply.

I ended up arguing with that account, before I realised, to my horror, that I was talking to Dónal’s Dad.

Twitter can be an awful place sometimes and it can bring out the worst in us and I sometimes realise too late that I was far too interested in arguing to actually listen to what the other person was saying.

In short, as I said to Fionnbar Walsh when finally we talked, I can be a bit of a prick sometimes.

“In other words,” he said, laughing, “You’re just like the rest of us.”

I have a theory that Irish people only really trust each other when they start swearing comfortably at each other and engage in the ancient Irish tradition of good-natured mutual character assassination. As soon as Fionnbar and I started effing and blinding and slagging each other, we got along grand. To be honest, it wasn’t terribly difficult to like him. He’s a lovely man, dealing with grief that I don’t want to imagine and he has a wickedly black sense of humour. He gives a vivid impression of his son as a young man who was a credit to himself and to his family and who shared his father’s sense of humour. He also is very clear that Dónal never pretended to be an expert on mental health and he says he and his family are fiercely proud of the lives that they believe Dónal has saved.

I was going to say so much more, but do you know what? It was a private conversation and even though Fionnbar gave me permission to talk about our chat, I’ve gone over this a few times and I’ve come to the conclusion that I lack the insight and the emotional vocabulary to do justice to my feelings on this subject.

In fact, I think the very best thing I could do is to refer you to my friend Anne-Marie Flynn‘s blog.

Anne-Marie is one of the best people you’ll meet. She has written about Dónal’s message and she has addressed my concerns far more eloquently than I ever could have done. She has also had, in the comments section of her blog, a conversation with Dónal’s Dad (sorry, Fionnbar) which I thought was extremely moving and better than anything I could ever have said.

Please, have a read, here.

Every good wish,

Donal O’Keeffe

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