SUN-TANNED, jet-lagged and with tears pouring down their cheeks, there was no sight more beautiful than the young returning emigrants reunited with their families for Christmas.
On their busiest day of the season, Dublin Airport embodied the true spirit of Christmas as emotional scenes played out in the arrivals hall.
It was almost too much to watch -- even for the airport customer care staff. "We had a proposal a few days ago," revealed one staff member.
"It's our favourite time of the year," she said.
Grandfather Pat Nolan, from Kilkenny, was impatiently awaiting the arrival of his son, Rex -- a Tube driver in London. It would be his first Christmas home in 22 years, said Pat.
"With the children young it was difficult to get home to Ireland," he explained.
It would also be the first time that Pat himself felt able to celebrate Christmas since the death of his beloved wife, Ann, three years ago, he said, breaking down with emotion.
Being together with his six children meant "so much," he said, smiling that Rex was "as hard as nails," and would be impatient with him for shedding a tear at his arrival.
But when Rex arrived, the love between father and son brought a lump to the throat as the pair left hand-in-hand, as they must have walked in earlier years when Rex was a boy. It was one of the most beautiful moments of the day.
Returning home from the exotic shores of the British Virgin Islands in the Caribbean, Maura McBride (30), from Limerick, was shivering in flip-flops.
Living in the Caribbean with her partner, Colin Meegan (29), who works in hedge funds, Maura said she was most looking forward to a proper Irish Christmas dinner. However life on the island was very pleasant, she said. Just 12 miles long, it is home to 20 Irish people -- and naturally, they are all friends, she laughed.
Michelle Lodge (25), from Donaghmede in Dublin, and boyfriend Robert White (27), from Donnycarney, Dublin, were reunited with family after an arduous journey from Australia. "Our visas are up so we're home now for good," beamed Michelle.
Reunited for the first time in three years, sisters Clare and Danielle McRedmond wept as they embraced tightly. Clare had been living in Australia until she moved home in July; while Clare is based in Vancouver, Canada.
Their parents were forced to spend Christmas alone at home in Clonaslee, Co Laois, last year. This year would be extra special as a result.
Overcome with emotion, Terri Hackney, from Laois, met her only daughter, also named Terri (26), home from Perth for the first time in two years. Having her only child living abroad was "so bad", she said, as Terri gently admonished her for her tears.
Over at Terminal One, Dymphna and Vinnie McArdle, from Dundalk, were waiting with daughter Niamh for the arrival of their son Darren, also home from Perth. Dymphna and Niamh were sporting reindeer costumes, while Vinnie was dressed as Santa Claus. "Darren will kill us," they all confessed, as they munched on crepes. "Breakfast on the hoof," grinned Dymphna.
Sure enough, when Darren arrived, he was somewhat embarrassed to see his family's attire and whisked them swiftly away.