Armed Forces Day events in Northern Ireland

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An Army major has told of how joining the military when he was a teenager “opened a window of opportunity” to the world.

Major George McFarland 2 Royal Irish, the only infantry reserve battalion in Northern Ireland, who joined the UDR when he was 18, said he has found his career “extremely rewarding”.

Major McFarland, 56, who is based in Ballymena, was speaking ahead of a weekend of Armed Forces Day events in the Province, begining on Friday at 6pm with a Beating of the Retreat – featuring the renowned Band of the Royal Marines – in Carrickfergus.

Saturday will see a military-themed parade through Ballymena while a church service will take place in Larne on Sunday.

All of the events are being held within the Mid and East Antrim Borough area.

Major McFarland, who will be participating in the Ballymena event, said after spending a few years in England he was promoted to a company commander of the King’s Own Royal Borderers when he was only 21. He said during his time in the Army “life has been extremely rewarding with foreign trips to various countries, including Africa and Germany and mostly Europe”.

He added: “From a civilian perspective it has given me opportunities within my civilian work as a civil servant for promotion and engagement.”

He said that in 2007 he took on the role of recruiting officer and since then has recruited hundreds of soldiers.

When talking to those attending Armed Forces Day, he said he will “tell them about all the opportunities that are available, the opportunity to see the world which they may not have the ability to do otherwise and get paid for doing so”.

He added that since 2007 “there has been an increase of Roman Catholics joining the Army”. “I do not regret joining for one minute,” he said.

Three days of events

• Friday: Carrickfergus Harbour car park from 6pm to 9pm, activities include two visiting Royal Navy vessels and a high-performance capability demonstration by the Royal Marines.

• Saturday: at 11am in Ballymena, more than 1,000 troops and veterans will march though the town centre to Ballymena Showgrounds where there will be interactive military displays and bands.

• Sunday: At 3.30pm a church service will be held in First Larne Presbyterian Church.