'I'm so proud of my hero son' says father of Royal Irish reservist Andrew McFarland who died suddenly at home
Royal Irish reservist received commendations for his military service
The heartbroken father of a Royal Irish reservist who died suddenly has paid a moving tribute to his son, saying he was "incredibly proud" of him.
Up to 1,000 mourners turned out yesterday at his funeral to say a final farewell to Andrew McFarland.
Lance Corporal McFarland, a father-of-three, passed away on July 12 at his home in Ballymena. Described by devastated colleagues as "the epitome of the Irish warrior", he had received commendations and survived being shot at.
The 32-year-old was buried with military honours.
L/C McFarland's father Allan said his son was a one-off.
"He received several commendations for saving his colleagues," he said, referring to his son's two tours in Afghanistan.
"There are photos and messages to him in the war museum in London.
"It was his ambition from a young age to serve in the Army, I have always been incredibly proud of him.
"This week has been very hard on all the family - particularly his mother."
He said his son's friends and colleagues have been sharing photographs of him on Facebook in remembrance, one of which has been liked 14,000 times.
"He was a one-off. When he was shot during an ambush in Afghanistan, the bullet passed through the magazine of his gun and ended up in his pouch - he immediately popped up and fought on, he had no fear in him," his father said.
"I have that magazine and will always keep it," he added.
L/C McFarland had earned a distinguished military record through service in Afghanistan, and also at the London Olympics in 2012.
Most recently he had been serving on the Guard of the Army Reserve Centre in Lowfield Camp, Ballymena.
His colleagues described him as having "epitomised everything that a reservist in 2 R Irish should be; a hugely respected and operationally experienced soldier".
Commanding officer Lt Col David Kenny said the local regiment are devastated by L/C McFarland's death.
"He was always volunteering to be the point man in Afghanistan and putting his brother soldiers before himself," he said.
"But our loss is nothing compared to that of his family; and our thoughts and prayers are with them, especially his wife, Gemma, and his children, Tamzin, Scott and Jay."
Cpl Powers, Guard Commander in Ballymena, said the world will be a "worse place" without him.
"Andy McFarland was loved by his colleagues and peers alike," he said.
"He was always there to lend a hand when someone needed help.
"I could not have maintained the high level of standards that we have without him as my guard second in command. But most of all he was my friend and I loved him like my own brother."
His family requested that those who wished to make a donation in his memory do so to Combat Stress, a charity which helps to support soldiers.
Just two years ago Mr McFarland was among a modern day 'Band of Brothers' from Ballymena - all former soldiers or reservists - who took on the demanding Five Peaks Challenge conquering some of the highest peaks in the UK to raise money for ABF The Soldiers' Charity.
Royal Irish veteran turned UUP MLA Andy Allen was among the hundreds of mourners at the funeral yesterday.
"It is important that all soldiers are made aware that there are support services to help them through any difficult time," he said.
"There is Combat Stress, my own organisation (Andy Allen Veteran Support) which provides counselling services, but it is vital that there is a joined up approach to help people.
"We see people every day from a range of backgrounds who have served in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Falklands and all over."
Mr McFarland is survived by his wife Gemma, children Tamzin, Scott and Jay, his parents Betty and Allan, and his siblings Derek, Amanda and Scott.
The Combat Stress 24-hour helpline can be contacted on 0800 138 1619, and Andy Allen Veteran Support can be contacted on 028 9074 7071.