DUBLINER Eamonn Campbell stood back and happily let the grandchildren take centre-stage as they gave a rapturous welcome to their father, home from a peace-keeping mission to South Lebanon.
After six months abroad, 176 members of the 106th Irish-Finn battalion, drawn from the Second Eastern Brigade, touched down at Dublin Airport after six months in the trouble-stricken region.
Among them was Mick O'Brien – married to Campbell's daughter Emma-Jane. The couple's four children, Troy (9), Caoilinn (7), Ethan (2) and Oisin (10 months) met their father with bear hugs.
"They've gotten so big," he marvelled.
"This is Caoilinn's birthday present," said Emma-Jane, whose son turned seven yesterday.
"It's great to see them so happy. I'm delighted he's home for Christmas," said a beaming Campbell.
Whoops and cheers greeted the troops on their arrival yesterday afternoon, with balloons and homemade signs lending a carnival air to the arrivals hall.
Wearing a T-shirt with "I'm here to take my daddy trooper Jason Walsh home" printed on the back, little Madison Walsh (20 months), from Ballyfermot, was toddling confidently around in sparkly shoes.
"Her daddy's never seen her walking," said mother Nuala Gallagher. "We haven't seen him since his leave 17 weeks ago and she's taken off since then – singing and dancing – he has a lot to catch up on," she said.
With the family reunited again, the excitement proved too much for Madison and she began to cry.
For Commandant Bernard Markey, it was his first time to meet his little daughter Diane since her birth seven weeks ago.
"We did a catch and deliver," he joked, as he snuggled the little wide-eyed baby and placed his blue beret on her fluffy head.
There were tears as newly engaged couple Julie O'Brien (25) and Danny Murphy (26) were reunited over the diamond wedding ring he brought home for her from Beirut.
"Never again," said Julie as she wiped away tears. "He's never leaving again."
The couple have four children, and planning a wedding was a big burden to shoulder alone, she said.