WITH tears in their eyes and the welcoming arms of their loved ones wrapped tightly around them, Christmas had truly begun.
Joyful squeals, a scattering of festive hats and novelty jumpers set the tone for a jolly holiday at Dublin airport that is set to continue until the last late flight on Christmas Eve.
Mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, spouses and children waited for the first glimpse through the glass double doors of their loved ones, who – jet-lag forgotten – swept them up in a warm embrace.
And with carols and music provided by the children of Rolestown NS, near Swords in Co Dublin, the atmosphere was particularly special.
Most heartbreaking of all were the young children waiting for the first sight of their fathers forced to leave this country and to go far away in search of work.
Jenny Heffernan with children Michael (6) and Sarah (3) from Enfield, Co Meath, were waiting for their father, Paul, who moved to Sydney seven months ago to get a job in construction.
Michael was the first to spot him as he arrived, squealing: "There's daddy!"
"I won't go back at all if I can get a job here," vowed Paul as he swept his children up in a bear hug.
In colourful Christmas jumpers, Siobhan Kelly, her daughter Orla, Siobhan's partner Martin Maher and his son Shane Maher – all from Thurles, Co Tipperary, stood patiently awaiting the arrival from Australia of Siobhan's eldest daughter Danielle Kelly (27) with boyfriend Michael Farrell. "She hasn't been home in two years and we're so excited," said Orla.
Paul and Patricia Lawrenson from Clonsilla in Dublin were waiting for their daughter Mairead (31) and her partner, American comedian Eric Shancey, who both live in Los Angeles and were flying in via Washington.
"I've been cleaning the whole house for weeks. But the minute they arrive, it can all go to pieces for all I care – I just want them home," said Patricia.
Bridget Kavanagh and daughter Lynne McCreery had donned their Christmas hats for Bridget's son, Keith, returning home from Australia – and they even brought his own hat along.
"This comes out every year – he'll feel Christmassy the minute he puts it on," said Bridget.
Returning from the US was Dee Morgan, who had been doing an internship in Washington DC. Dee, who works for the Department of Foreign Affairs, and was taking a sabbatical, explained that she has returned for good because of a new job relating to Ireland's Presidency of the EU in January.
Her mother, Freda Morgan from Shankill, Co Dublin, wiped away tears as she revealed how she is welcoming home one child, only to say goodbye to another.
Her son Shane is moving to the States today with his American girlfriend Madeline.
As a result, they were having the family Christmas yesterday – with turkey, plum pudding and presents.