Not a dry eye in the arrivals hall as troops are first to land safely
THERE were tears of joy in the arrivals hall at Dublin Airport last night as 160 jubilant Defence Forces troops were reunited with their families following a six-month tour of duty in Kosovo.
Soldiers openly wept tears of joy as they embraced their children, kissed their wives and girlfriends and hugged family and friends who greeted each arrival with a resounding cheer as they came through the gate.
More than 100 well-wishers waving balloons, tricolour flags and 'Welcome Home' banners formed a giant homecoming party as they swarmed the arrivals hall to welcome home members of the 41st Infantry.
The regiment, drawn mostly from Dublin and Dundalk, was the last contingent of soldiers to be deployed in Kosovo as part of the NATO-led KFOR mission which has been wound down after 11 years, with now just a handful of soldiers remaining.
Private Stephen Donegan from Crumlin, south Dublin, proudly beamed as he embraced his partner Elaine Carruthers and their four-month-old daughter Amber, who was born while he was stationed at Camp Clarke near the capital, Pristina.
The troops were among the first wave of stranded air passengers who were able to fly into Dublin in almost a week.
They were due to leave on Tuesday but were held back for 24 hours due to the flight ban imposed after the Icelandic volcano erupted.
Private Robert Duffy (21), from north Dublin, fought back tears as he met his 11-week-old cousin Zoe Martin for the first time while playfully hoisting his baby sister Amy (5) in his arms.
"It feels feckin' terrific," he said of being home at last.
"Four months away from your family is a long time. You miss them every day," he said.
Even being grounded for just a day due to the flight ban was excruciating, he added. "I was really looking forward to coming home. We were delighted that the airspace opened. I'm very emotional and glad to be home," he said.
His mother, Lorraine Duffy, said she was just thankful that he made it home safely.
"The last week has been very anxious," she said.
Private Dave Connaughton, (24), from Finglas, who was the first soldier through the arrivals gate, was ecstatic as he hugged his mother Sandra and his two-year-old daughter Taylor.
"It was a long six months. It's great to be back," he said.