ELATED mum Candice Gannon wept tears of joy as she hugged her tug-of-love daughter for the first time in nearly eight months yesterday.
The pair enjoyed an emotional reunion in an Algarve children's home before checking in to a nearby hotel to make the most of their first day back together.
Last night, Candice relived the emotional rollercoaster sparked by her daughter's abduction last July by Portuguese dad Filipe Silva as she said: "Being reunited with Ellie after such a long time feels as good as the day I gave birth to her. It's been a phenomenal day and one that will stay with me forever.
"I'm obviously very upset because I can tell Ellie is psychologically upset and has suffered parental alienation.
"But my overwhelming feeling is one of happiness.
"I just want to help Ellie back to being the girl she was, one step at a time, and put this behind us so I can try and get our life back on track."
Mum-of-two Candice flew from her home in Ballsbridge on Monday with Dublin entrepreneur husband Philip Gannon (44) and their daughter Olivia (2), after learning their seven months of torment had ended with Ellie being handed over to police.
Her daughter vanished during a two-week holiday with her wealthy businessman dad last July.
Candice's 34-year-old ex, arrested last Friday on suspicion of Ellie's kidnap after going on the run, ignored a court order to return her to her mum.
Last night it emerged the youngster had been attending a school in Porto, a three-hour drive north of the Portuguese capital Lisbon.
But the full details of Ellie's seven missing months remained shrouded in mystery.
Mr Silva has been released on bail but is still under official investigation on suspicion of kidnap.
British-born Candice, who has dual nationality because of her Irish father George Kelly and has spent the past year between homes in Madeira and Ireland, said: "I know she's been to school because her paternal grandmother gave the police a bag with schoolbooks inside when she handed her over.
"I have no idea where she was staying.
"The only contact I've had with Ellie has been a single phone call with her on August 5 last year.
"She hasn't really opened up yet about what's happened in these past seven months and we've been advised not to push too hard and let her speak in her own time which is what we intend doing."
Candice's lawyer Spencer Dohner has already announced he plans seeking a court order preventing Ellie's dad from seeing her unsupervised. Her mum insisted last night: "I don't want him to see her at all at the moment, full stop."
She added: "We want to get back to Ireland at some point because Ellie has family and friends there who want to see her and her birthday and Christmas presents are there waiting for her to unwrap. But . . . we have to stay in Portugal because of the custody deal with Filipe.
"Even though he's ridden roughshod over it, we're law-abiding people.
"I just hope now the Portuguese courts give us the protection Ellie needs and let us get on with the rest of our lives together.
"I want to make sure she's not scarred by this ordeal she's been through."