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Ballymena turns out in force to welcome RIR back from Afghanistan

Royal Irish soldiers returning from Afghanistan have been welcomed home with a parade in Ballymena.

The Deputy Colonel of the Royal Irish Regiment, Mark Campbell, has praised the people of the town for welcoming its troops and recognising their bravery in Afghanistan.

Around 200 troops from the Royal Irish 1st and 2nd Battalions took part in a colourful parade through the Co Antrim town last night as they were awarded the Freedom of the Borough of Ballymena.

The Royal Irish have just returned from a six-month tour of Afghanistan in which it tragically lost three men — Ranger Aaron McCormick, Ranger David Dalzell and Lance Corporal Stephen McKee.

Some of the deceased’s relatives attended the parade which Deputy Colonel Campbell said brought a note of sadness to the evening.

“There are two tones to this evening,” he said. “We are very grateful to the Borough of Ballymena in recognising the commitment and courage of our soldiers.

“When you are in Afghanistan it is an arduous tour, especially being away from their families, so it means a lot to them. But clearly it is tinged with sadness in remembering those colleagues who did not return.”

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He added: “Ballymena is a very special place for the Royal Irish as our home and depot was at St Patrick’s Barracks here for years until 2008.”

The armed troops formed a colourful procession carrying flags showing the regimental battle honours and were accompanied by the sound of the Royal Irish Regimental Band.

To some observers’ disappointment, the regiment’s new mascot, Irish wolfhound pup Brian Boru IX, was absent as he was judged too young for the occasion. Instead the parade was led by the Commanding Officer of the 1st Battalion, Colin Weir.

Among the spectators were some familiar faces, including former First Minister Ian Paisley and his son, the North Antrim MP Ian Paisley jnr. TUV leader and newly elected Assembly Member Jim Allister was also spotted among the well-wishers.

The 10-minute parade weaved its way to and from The Braid in Ballymena, where a reception was later held.

The Royal Irish Regiment was honoured previously with the Freedom of Castlereagh.


  • The regiment’s homecoming is being marked by a number of events this weekend.
  • The regiment is to be granted the Freedom of Lisburn today in a major ceremony that will see most of the city closed off.
  • Then tomorrow a thanksgiving memorial service for the regiment is taking place at St Anne’s Cathedral in Belfast at 3.30pm.
  • Former Church of Ireland primate Lord Eames, who visited the regiment in Afghanistan earlier this year, is to give the address at the cathedral.

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