A British soldier from Tullysaran in Co Armagh, who was killed while off-duty in Kenya earlier this week, has been remembered as “a shining light”.
The tragic death of Major Kevin McCool occurred on Wednesday but was only confirmed by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) on Saturday.
The 32-year-old was killed while on a motorcycle trip away from his base and was due to leave the country a matter of days later.
Tributes are often paid at times of devastation and grief; eulogies are written about those departed, but Kevin McCool was someone very special indeed.
His talents were boundless. A magnificent musician who spent time with the Armagh Pipers, as well as an astonishing athlete who trained with Armagh AC, but most of all, he was a humble and beautiful human being.
Armagh’s legendary Dermot Kerr has seen many runners come and go over the years but Kevin was “one of the nicest young fellas you could ever work with”.
Speaking to Armagh I, Dermot said: “Kevin would have come fifth in an All-Ireland School Cross Country with nobody looking about him. He come to train with me and he won an Ulster Schools 1,500m title and I only had him for about 12 days. He absolute walked away with it.
“If he had have stayed he would have done some damage, I’m telling you.”
Dermot recalled the first night he had Kevin in for a training session.
“The first night he come with me, we had three very good athletes doing a session; he come and I said hang out the back, see how you go.
“I kept saying to him, are you alright? Are you alright, you alright? And then we got into the 16th 400-metre run and he says, ‘here, I’m getting a bit tired’. I says, ‘Kevin, just run 200 and jog across’. I left him home to Tullysaran that night and he got out of the car, and he pulled the door open and he says, ‘Dermot, thanks for looking after me tonight’. A lot of young fellas wouldn’t have said that. He was just one of those – he was a little gem. Such a humble young man.”
Dermot said he was “devastated” when he heard the news of Kevin’s tragic death.
“I’ve met young fellas in my life, but he’s one of them young fellas that was just a shining light”.
Stephen Rice, Head of PE at the Integrated College in Dungannon, has seen plenty of students come and go over the years but few – if any – left their mark like Kevin did.
“Kevin was just, from day one, a very sporty lad,” Stephen told Armagh I. “A very capable, talented lad, but also very hardworking, resilient young man who excelled at all sports, but particularly running.
“We won an All-Ireland Cross Country Schools title and he would have been our star man in that team – he would have led the boys home. He was a spiritual leader who led from the front.”
He added: “Kevin was our main man. He was a great runner; resilient, with a great attitude – always positive and just a joy to work with.
“He was one of the lads that I remember very fondly; I have a few pictures up around the office of those teams and him particularly – he was a leader. Kevin stood out as an athlete, as a student and all great person. We haven’t seen the success in the running since Kevin…they don’t come along like him very often.
“I’m just devastated for his family – they all went to the College and were all very supportive of the school. He will be missed by so many people.”
Headteacher at the College, Andrew Sleath, described Kevin as “a bright, happy student”.
“There was always a mischievous glint in his eye, though he was a well-disciplined student who always did what was asked off him and gave his best. He was a team player who always supported his fellow students and had all the qualities of a leader which, no doubt, stood him in good stead in his role within the army.
“All at the college were deeply saddened to learn of his untimely passing. He will be remembered very fondly by all the staff and former students who had the pleasure of knowing him.
“On behalf of the governors, staff and students, both past and present, I would like to offer my sincerest condolences to all who knew and loved Kevin. His family will be in our thoughts and prayers.”
Major McCool is survived by his mother, Joan, and his father, Joseph, his two brothers – Fergal and Brendan – and sisters, Alice, Margaret and May.
The family home is private to family and close friends.
The veteran served in Europe, the Middle East, the Falklands and Africa during his military career after being commissioned from Sandhurst in 2014.