Irish troops home safe after their brave battle against deadly Ebola
Published 23/05/2015 | 02:30
It was an emotional homecoming for an Irish doctor who headed up a Defence Forces medical team in Ebola-hit Sierra Leone, following the death of his father while he was away.
Captain Eugene O'Connor, from Blackrock, Co Dublin, arrived at Casement Aerodrome in Baldonnel into the embrace of his mother Mary and niece and nephew Ben (10) and Milla (8), who held up a sign welcoming home "Uncle Eugene", along with sisters Tracy and Gillian.
His father, also named Eugene, passed away in February - a month and a half after Eugene Jr's arrival in West Africa.
"It was difficult," said Eugene, explaining how his father had been a GP in North Dublin and was the inspiration behind his own medical career, having previously travelled to Africa to work for medical charities.
Eugene was part of a five-man medical team from the Defence Forces working in co-operation with a joint UK Inter Agency Task Force.
Also home was Sgt David Sliney, Corporals Frank Noonan and Pierce Foley and Trooper Richard Fitzgerald - who got a bravery award while away.
It is the first time the Irish Defence Forces deployed a medical team to combat Ebola, and the group has now been replaced by a new team. The situation on the ground was difficult at times, they revealed, but making progress against the disease was rewarding.
"There's a degree of poverty there and a degree of fear as well with the virus - that was on our minds all the time, trying to reassure the local populus," Eugene explained.
Corporal Noonan said: "When the figure of Ebola cases finally hits zero, I think we will all pat ourselves on the back and say we did a bit to help that."