Heroes' welcome for crew who saved 3,400 in Med
The LE Eithne and her 69-strong crew were given a heroes' welcome home, after a nine-week Mediterranean mission in which the Naval Service vessel saved almost 3,400 refugees.
The 31-year-old ship was cheered to the echo as it berthed at Haulbowline Naval Base in Cork - with parents, wives, children, friends and navy comrades eagerly gathered at the dockside.
Many carried flags and home-made banners to welcome the crew back to Ireland.
Defence Minister Simon Coveney and Naval Service Commodore Hugh Tully formally welcomed Cmdr Pearse O'Donnell and his crew.
Also present was Deputy Chief of Staff, Major General Kieran Brennan.
LE Eithne completed 22 rescues and saved 3,377 people including 170 children.
There was a double celebration for the navy as the €62m new patrol vessel, LE James Joyce, was also officially delivered from Babcock Marine in the UK.
For LE Eithne's crew the most important tributes came from the loved ones gathered impatiently on the dockside.
Aoife de Barra had a special celebratory meal planned for her husband, Rory de Barra.
"We're so excited. This has been such a long mission and our children, Ashling (5) and Roisin (2), are just so happy to have their daddy home."
The girls had devoted all of Thursday evening to preparing a special 'Welcome Home Daddy' sign for Rory.
Leading Seaman Jason Burke admitted it was very emotional to be reunited with his wife, Elaine, and three children, Lily, Hannah and little Ellie who is only three months old.
"It is a bit overwhelming. I can't believe how big she (Ellie) has gotten," he said.
Suzanne Grandon said she was thrilled her fiancée, Andrew Clinton, was finally home.
"I missed him every single day. We only got engaged before he headed out so I'm absolutely delighted he is home," she said.
Sailor Stephen Lynch turned the tables on his partner, Donna, who was on the quayside with their children, Faye and Ewan, as he disembarked with a cake to mark her 29th birthday.
The entire Lynch family was wearing 'Welcome Home Daddy' T-shirts.
LE Eithne's supply officer, Lt Colm Fox, said he couldn't wait to be reunited with his wife, Amy, and children, Iseult (8) and Sebastian (2).
Iseult presented her daddy with a special trophy.
The children had also prepared a special scrapbook of all the newspaper stories involving LE Eithne's mission.
"It's fantastic to be back. The heat out there had to be experienced to be believed," he said.