Presidential reception for brave Sharon
IT was the clasp which said Agatha Commins would never let her daughter stray from safety again.
In the same week as she arrived home following 106 days in captivity, the close family bonds that helped kidnapped aid worker Sharon Commins through her ordeal in Sudan were plain for all to see.
Sharon held her mother's hand tightly for support at Aras an Uachtarain yesterday, during a reception in her honour where President Mary McAleese described the Commins family as "absolutely extraordinary" and a family whose stoicism and faith had seen them through the dark months of the kidnapping.
And it was that unique bond which Sharon drew strength from as she faced a wall of cameras in her first official appearance since she arrived back in Ireland and into Baldonnel on Monday night.
Appearing slightly frail and nervous, she stood before the President who said the release last weekend had lifted the "spirits of the nation".
"Your kidnapping on July 3 provoked such an outpouring of concern, of prayer, of hope, of solidarity," said Ms McAleese.
"Each of those long days that you endured, each of those things endured with every single day and your safe return home has brought such huge joy obviously to your parents, your friends, your colleagues.
"But believe me, it has also, as I hope you can see and you have experienced since you came home, brought huge joy to that other big family that you are part of, and that is the family of the Gael, the great Irish family," the President added.
Some 30 officials from the Departments of Defence and Justice, the gardai and the Defence Forces joined the Commins family and friends during the reception yesterday evening.
Sharon warmly greeted a number of officials who worked towards her release during a photocall.
The President quipped "here's the bossman" as she introduced Defence Forces chief of staff Lt Gen Dermot Earley.
However, it was colleagues Jonathan Edgar and Gerry Carty from GOAL who got the warmest welcome from Sharon, who was wearing a green dress to accentuate her nationality.
Sharon, who chose not to address the assembled media yesterday, has been recovering from her ordeal at home in Clontarf, north Dublin, following her return.
The President said her arrival on the government jet brought back memories of when Brian Keenan flew home following his four-year captivity in Beirut during the late 1980s.
"We are so proud of you. We are so proud of Hilda (Kawuki who was also kidnapped) and very much at this moment, what everybody wishes for you is a return to health, a return to healing, a return to the bosom of your family," said Ms McAleese.
"You come from a wonderful family, an absolutely extraordinary family.
"Their stoicism and their faith and their goodness during what we know were agonising long days and long nights were really quite remarkable. They were inspirational.
"The qualities and the values which drove you to undertake the work that you did as a volunteer, as someone who took your gifts and put them at the service of others, those same qualities, those same values helped you get through what was a hellish ordeal.
"We know that you are made of tough stuff. Soft in the heart, but tough stuff."
She also called for people to remember Fr Michael Sinnott, the 79-year-old Columban Missionary who is currently being held in the Philippines.
Attending yesterday's reception were Foreign Affairs Minister Micheal Martin, Garda Commissioner Fachtna Murphy and secretary general of the Department of Defence Michael Howard.