The father of a British soldier from Co Armagh attacked and killed while off duty in Kenya last week said his son had been due to leave his army tour of the country just three days later.
Joseph McCool said his son had decided to go for "one last ride [on his scrambler motorbike] up a local mountain". Major Kevin McCool (32) from Tullysaran was ambushed by two men with a gun, his father said.
Paying tribute, he said: “Every life is precious but this guy was really, really special. He was 1,500m Ulster champion. He ran for Ireland. He played piano, harp, tin whistle.
“He was loved — I am tempted to say adored — by his fellow officers. We are getting that from the horse’s mouth. That is what we are being told by top brass because he was so good.”
Major McCool’s mother, Joan, and his brother Fergal, one of his five siblings, flew out to be with him before he died last Wednesday from his injuries.
“It seems that he thought the gun was a dummy, he didn’t think it was real,” his father said. “He made the mistaken assumption that the gun was artificial and they shot him.”
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Major McCool was commissioned from Sandhurst in 2014 and saw service in Europe, the Middle East, the Falklands and Africa.
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) said it would not be commenting further on the circumstances of his death, nor whereabouts in the country McCool was attacked.
Grant Shapps, the British defence secretary, said: “It’s clear from the tributes of those who knew him that Major McCool was an exceptional person and an exceptional soldier, loved and respected in equal measure, who served his country with distinction.”
Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, wrote on X: “My heart goes out to Maj McCool’s family, friends, and fellow soldiers today in the face of their tragic loss. The tributes pouring out for him show a man who served his country with pride, integrity and bravery. His service will not be forgotten.”
The MoD said in a statement that Major McCool had “infectious enthusiasm” for his job and “a mischievous twinkle in his eye that made him tremendous fun to be with”.
His fitness was said to be “legendary” and he once “beat the whole battalion on a two-miler”.