Tuesday 13 November 2018

Watch: Emotional scenes at Dublin Airport as troops return home from Syria after two-week delay

David Sweeney with Sarah Healy and son Daire from Cork Photo: Kyran O'Brien
David Sweeney with Sarah Healy and son Daire from Cork Photo: Kyran O'Brien
Danny Quinn with his partner Imelda and their children Holly (22 months) and Daniel (3) from Kilkenny Photo: Kyran O'Brien
Sean McInerney with Lisa Hurley and their daughter Bella (21months) from Cork
Jason O’Dowd, Lee Smith and Shane Dempsey Photo: Kyran O'Brien
Brian Kavanagh with his wife Caroline and their daughter Amber (3) from Wexford Photo: Kyran O'Brien
Brian Clery with his children Luke (3) and Ruby (5) from Clonmel Photo: Kyran O'Brien
Geoffrey Magee with his wife Amy and their children Luke (6), Jack (2) and Lara (10 months) from Lucan Photo: Kyran O'Brien
Frank Noonan and Hannah Mc Ardle from Kilkenny Photo: Kyran O'Brien
Gerry Condron and Nicola Flynn from Waterford Photo: Kyran O'Brien

Rachel Farrell and Kyran O'Brien

TEARS, smiles and homemade banners greeted some 119 Irish troops serving in Golan Heights as they returned home to Ireland this morning - following a high profile two-week delay.

Hundreds gathered at Dublin Airport arrivals shortly after 6am this morning to welcome the 57th Infantry Group from Syria, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Mark Brownen. 

The soldiers were due to return almost two weeks ago but had to remain in Syria due to a paperwork error. 

The personnel- from 15 counties across Ireland, including Kilkenny and Waterford- were on the UN peace keeping mission for the last six months. 

The group were the first Irish unit to redeploy Syria following a UN evacuation of personnel in 2014. 

The return today was an emotional one for some, with many disappointed when their anticipated return date was pushed back.  

“We’re planning on celebrating a birthday that dad missed,” said Ciara Kavanagh, after her husband Brian missed their daughter Amber’s birthday last week.

“He was supposed to be home, but these things happen,” the Wexford mother said.

Sean McInerney with Lisa Hurley and their daughter Bella (21months) from Cork
Sean McInerney with Lisa Hurley and their daughter Bella (21months) from Cork

But for many it was a morning of delight at airport arrivals, with some partners preparing the chores for the boyfriends and husbands to carry out.

“Oh I've plenty, I've a list done out. I’m going to be a lady of luxury now for the next few months,” said Imelda Quinn, who looked after children Daniel (3) and baby Holly when her partner Daniel was away.

Some of the challenges the crew faced were not seeing their loved ones for six months, but there was no doubt that they would fall straight back into their home routines, according to many of the troops.

“It’s fantastic to be home, it’s a long six months but we get stuck into the job out there, keep the head down and try not to think too much about what’s going on at home because you’ve a job to do out there,” said Corporal David Sweeney, who went to Syria on his fourth mission abroad.

“We’re home now and it’s all forgotten about now. In a couple of days, we’ll be back to reality, back to normality.

“It was tough but if it's not tough it’s not worth doing, that’s what I say.”

Gerry Condron and Nicola Flynn from Waterford Photo: Kyran O'Brien
Gerry Condron and Nicola Flynn from Waterford Photo: Kyran O'Brien

Spending time with family and plenty of rest are on the agenda for many members of the 57th Infantry for the next week few weeks.

“Time to make up for lost time now, catch up with the family and friends over the next few weeks. We’ve a holiday booked on Saturday too so there’ll be more sun as well thankfully,” Corporal Sweeney from Co Cork said.

"He's looking forward to dad helping him with his homework and helping pick out Halloween decorations," Amy Magee from Lucan in Dublin said, who was waiting with children Luke (6), Jack (2) and Lara (10 months) for husband Geoffrey to land on Irish soil.

For others, a trip to the pub and catching up on the sport were top of the list of things they missed while they were deployed.

“We just want to chill out, have a few drinks, relax and spend time with the loves ones,” added Jason O’Dowd, Lee Smith and Shane Dempsey, who were three of 41 personnel on their first tour of duty overseas.

Brian Clery with his children Luke (3) and Ruby (5) from Clonmel Photo: Kyran O'Brien
Brian Clery with his children Luke (3) and Ruby (5) from Clonmel Photo: Kyran O'Brien

“We missed the All-Ireland Final, within the first two weeks we’d missed out on that. We tried to get home for it, but we couldn’t.” 

Defence Forces chief of staff, Vice Admiral Mark Mellet, congratulated the Irish personnel on tackling a ‘complex’ operation.

“The work of the 57th Infantry Group, under the command of Lt Col Mark Brownen, is a great source of pride to the Defence Forces and to Ireland,” he said.

“The unit is also flying the United Nations flag, a symbol of hope and of peace, in a very challenging operational environment. 

“It is the blend of experience, leadership, training and equipment that makes the men and women of Óglaigh an hÉireann so effective, even in the most complex situations.” 

The 330km move through Israeli Occupied Golan Heights, through Israel and Lebanon into Syria, past Damascus and into Camp Faouar was broken into four stages and initiated on August 14.

During their time there, the Infantry Group carried out peacekeeping duties under chapter 6 of the UN Charter, acting as the Force Reserve Company and supporting the United Nations Truce Supervision Organisation (UNTSO).

The group were replaced by the 58th Infantry Group at the weekend, who will be the first Irish unit to deploy directly to Syria in the last four years.

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