Thursday 29 September 2016

'It's great to be back' - Tears of joy as Irish Defence Forces reunited with families after tense six-month mission

Published 08/04/2016 | 22:41

Soldiers were given a heroes' welcome last night as they arrived at Dublin Airport from a tense six-month mission in the Golan Heights.

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Around 100 members of the 50th Infantry Group of the Irish Defence Forces cried tears of joy as they were reunited with wives, children, friends and family.

Children waving Tricolours and banners lept into their arms, some with tears streaming down their faces, as they emerged from the arrivals hall on a gruelling flight from Tel Aviv.

Brothers Luke (5) and Dara (2) O'Mahony held up a hand-drawn poster reminding their Dad, Pte Robert O'Mahony, that they have been counting down all 185 "sleeps" since he last tucked them into bed.

Bernadine O'Mahony with sons Luke and Dara welcome home her husband Robert at Dublin Airport Picture: Arthur Carron
Bernadine O'Mahony with sons Luke and Dara welcome home her husband Robert at Dublin Airport Picture: Arthur Carron
Bernadine O'Mahony with sons Luke and Dara welcome home her husband Robert at Dublin Airport Picture: Arthur Carron

"They're so excited," said the boy's Mum Bernadine O' Mahony from Cork city as she waited anxiously for her husband to walk through the door and into their arms.

And he didn't disappoint even though he was one of the last troops to come through the hall.

But the long wait was worth it as he kissed his wife and sons and spoke of his joy of finally being home.

"It was slow enough the last couple of weeks but thank God we're here," he said.

"It's great to be back."

The family is now looking forward to a well-deserved holiday in Lanzarote tomorrow after a fraught six-month tour of duty which had everyone on a knife edge, said Bernadine.

Nicky Byrne welcomed by daughters Lexi and Rachel and wife Angela at Dublin Airport Picture: Arthur Carron
Nicky Byrne welcomed by daughters Lexi and Rachel and wife Angela at Dublin Airport Picture: Arthur Carron
Geoffrey Shanahan welcomed home by fiancee Emma O'Rourke at Dublin Airport Picture: Arthur Carron
Geoffrey Shanahan welcomed home by fiancee Emma O'Rourke at Dublin Airport Picture: Arthur Carron

"It was his first tour with our two kids so it's been quite emotionally hard for us, but we got through it"' she said.

Even though her husband has been on two previous peacekeeping tours of Chad and Liberia, the stint in the Golan Heights was the most stressful, she said.

"Syria was the most volatile. I was worried. They were on alert 24/7 compared to other trips. There was no down time as such," she said.

The UN peacekeeping mission known as the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDORF)' was to supervise an "area of separation" in the Golan Heights region separating Israel from war-torn Syria.

Stephen Cronin, Cobh with his five week old daughter Robyn at Dublin Airport Picture: Arthur Carron
Stephen Cronin, Cobh with his five week old daughter Robyn at Dublin Airport Picture: Arthur Carron
Nicky Byrne welcomed by daughters Lexi and Rachel at Dublin Airport Picture: Arthur Carron
Stephen Cronin, Cobh with his five week old daughter Robyn at Dublin Airport Picture: Arthur Carron
Stephen Cronin, Cobh with his five week old daughter Robyn and partner Jade at Dublin Airport Picture: Arthur Carron
Stephen Cronin with his five week old daughter Robyn and partner Jade at Dublin Airport Picture: Arthur Carron

The area has become increasingly volatile since the outbreak of civil  war in Syria.

"All deployments are inherently dangerous, but this mission in particular has escalated in dangers with the spillover from the Syrian civil war," Defence Forces spokesman Donal Gallagher said.

"There is now the extra dimension of up to 50 armed jihadi groups operating within the Golan Heights," he said.

But thoughts of the mission evaporated as soon as Pte Stephen Cronin from Cobh swept his five-week old daughter Robyn into his arms.

He was home for her birth but had to return a week later and hasn't seen her since then.

"There's a huge change," he beamed as he kissed her head and his partner Jade White, (25).

"It was a tough experience but it's great to be back now," he said.

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