Emotional scenes at Dublin Airport as 130 Irish peacekeepers return home from Middle East
SOME 130 Irish soldiers received a rock-star reception at Dublin Airport as they arrived home from the strife-torn Middle East.
The troops - who form part of the 46th infantry group – had been stationed in the Golan Heights on the Israeli-Syrian border for the past six months.
The peacekeeping contingent, who are mainly from counties Dublin, Galway and Louth, have been replaced by members of the 48th Infantry group as part of Ireland's latest UN mission.
They received a special welcome from a small army of young, smiling faces when they touched down on Irish soil.
In an emotional homecoming, loud cheers went up from flag-waving schoolchildren, as well as proud family members and friends, when the first tranche trickled through the arrivals area shortly after 10.45pm.
Balloons festooned the arrivals area in Terminal 1 as some of the 120 well-wishers held ‘Welcome Home’ banners aloft as part of the giant homecoming party.
Wives, children, girlfriends, parents and extended family rushed en masse to hug their loved ones.
Michelle Ganley, was among the anxious faces waiting for her partner, Declan Keyes, to return home.
Holding the couple's one-year-old son in her arms, she said the past six months have been "tough" on the family.
"We used FaceTime and WhatsApp every day to keep in touch. He wanted to see his two-year-old son, Cody, as much as possible.
"He's missed my brother's wedding and Christmas was particularly tough for all the family."
Declan Byrne from Co Wicklow beamed with pride as he embraced his two children, Sasha (2) and Sam (6).
"He has a one-year-old asleep at home so he's missed six months of its life," said his wife, Cathrina.
"It's been worse for him than it has been for me. But we just had to get on with it.
"This is his fourth tour and it gets harder each time he goes away."
The soldiers formed part of the overall United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF).
Since the outbreak of the current Civil War in Syria, the Golan Heights region has become increasingly unstable, with tensions between both sides manifesting into several cross-border incidents.
They are among five nations contributing to the 1,250 strong force on the Golan Heights,
Other countries involved include Fiji, India, Nepal, and the Philippines.
Irish soldiers have a long history of peacekeeping duties in the region.
Dating back to 1974, they've been observers in this "area of separation" 74km long, between Israel and Syria.