Irish troops return to hero's welcome: 'It means a lot to have them all back safe'
There were emotional scenes as 130 Irish peacekeepers returned to a hero's welcome after a six-month tour of duty in the Golan Heights.
Anticipation mounted as children, partners, parents, siblings and other loved ones waited excitedly for the 54th Infantry Group to arrive in Dublin Airport.
The group were working under the direct command of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force Commander and for 35 personnel it was their first tour of duty overseas.
Someone who was thrilled to be back was Captain Tom Brannigan, who was greeted with open arms by his girlfriend Jennifer Williams and their four-month-old son Terry.
Tom, who is from Stillorgan in Dublin, said: "He was born on November 28 and I got to come home for a few weeks just before Christmas to meet him but I haven't seen him for about three months.
"It's wonderful to get to be here, I've just been seeing the pictures and watching him grow every day so it's great to be back with him and Jennifer."
Jennifer added: "I missed him so much, I'm so happy to have him back, we'll have some celebrations now he's here.
"I was counting down the days for the last few weeks and then it got to counting down the hours."
It was a particularly special return for Lieutenant Colonel Mary Carroll, who has the honour of being the first woman to command an Irish contingent overseas. The Roscommon native spoke candidly about the challenges our brave troops face in the line of duty.
She said: "I'm delighted to be home, there's no place like home, after six months away when you see the families gathered around it means a lot to have brought them all back safe and sound.
"We've had a challenging time in the UNDOF mission, it's a challenging mission and is going through a particular transition at the moment.
"I don't know if being the first female commander was any different to anyone else doing it but I would like to think I've done a really good job."
Lieutenant Colonel Carroll also spoke about the work the Irish Defence Forces are carrying out in the Golan Heights.
She said: "The Irish troops are the force reserve Company in the UNDOF Mission so this is a very fundamental role. We provide the Quick Reaction Force, so we're the 999 call when something goes wrong and then we'll have fifteen minutes to move.
"Having been there for the last six months I can say the Irish troops are performing superbly and I'm really proud of them.
"I'm delighted to have been their Commander."
It's an exciting time for Lieutenant Donal Desmond, who is back just in time for the birth of his second child next month.
The Cork native spoke about how difficult it was to be apart from his two-year-old son Nathan.
He said: "I'm delighted to be back, it's a long six months, it's fantastic to see the little man and there's been such a massive change in him.
"My wife is due next month so we'll be getting ready to welcome Nathan's little brother or sister.
"It's my second tour but it's my first away from my family and it's a bit different this time."
It was also a family affair for Corporal Martin Cummins (28), who was greeted by his partner Laura Corless and their young sons Ruairi and Daniel.
The boys were proudly wearing t-shirts with their dad's face on them and carrying homemade banners.
The Roscommon native said: "It's absolutely brilliant to come home after a few months away and I was really looking forward to seeing the boys and my girlfriend.
"It was amazing to get that welcome, I had no idea they were coming up, I thought it was just my mother and my sisters so it was a big surprise when I came through and saw them.
"The t-shirts are brilliant, it took me about ten seconds to see what they were.
"I think the only thing these lads want to do is for us to go on a trip to the zoo."
Laura said that after having her hands full since October, she's over the moon to have Martin home.
She told Independent.ie: "We've two boys and they're proper boisterous boys so it's just great to have him back - I might have a week to myself."