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Joy as army dads return to heroes' welcome

For Commandant Bernard Markey, coming home after a six-month tour from a peace-keeping mission to South Lebanon had a special significance -- it was the first time that he met his seven-week-old daughter, Diane.

"We did a catch and deliver," he joked, as he snuggled the little wide-eyed baby and placed his blue beret on her head.

Chief of staff on this last mission, the trip was "an excellent one", he said -- adding that it had been his 11th, having previously served in the Balkans, Africa and the Middle East.

After six months abroad, 176 members of the 106th Irish-Finn battalion, drawn from the Second Eastern Brigade, touched down at Dublin Airport.

Among them was Mick O'Brien -- married to EmmaJane. The couple's four children, Troy (9), Caoilinn (7), Ethan (2) and Oisin (10 months) met their father with bear hugs.

"They've gotten so big," he marvelled.

"This is Caoilinn's birthday present," said Emma-Jane, whose son turned seven yesterday.

Whoops and cheers greeted the troops on their arrival yesterday afternoon.

Wearing a T-shirt with "I'm here to take my daddy trooper Jason Walsh home", printed on the back, little Madison Walsh (20 months), from Ballyfermot, was toddling confidently around in sparkly shoes.

"Her daddy's never seen her walking," said mother Nuala Gallagher.