Amid a sea of human misery there were heartwarming moments: The arrival of a new life and migrants singing happy birthday to a 21-year-old sailor who was happy to forego celebrating his milestone day to ensure they were safe.
Such stories will become the stuff of legend in the Naval Service in the years to come, and some of them were related when LÉ Eithne returned home after a migrant rescue mission in Mediterranean Sea.
Its 72-strong crew saved many of the rescued 1,187 people from almost certain drowning.
Navy medic Sandra Daly head nearly delivered her first migrant baby on a previous mission with LÉ James Joyce. However, the mother-to-be was transferred at the last minute to an Italian ship which was close by.
Ms Daly put her training to good use with the LÉ Eithne: “On our first rescue mission, this time, we picked up 713 people and, magically, it was turned into 714.
“The woman who came onboard said she was going to have a baby. We screened off part of the deck and she went into labour. It lasted two hours and she took it all in her stride. She had a baby girl.”
“It was the most amazing experience. I was helped by mechanic Rachel Quinn, who is from Bandon, and Corporal Mark Corcoran, an Air Corps medic.”
Birthday boy Dylan Flanagan from Cobh, meanwhile, described the surreal scene when 700-plus migrants onboard joined in the celebrations.
He said the spontaneous congratulations and singing by hundreds of migrants on his 21st birthday was orchestrated by colleague Marty Kerrigan.
“I think they enjoyed it more that I did. It was amazing to have all those migrants singing for you,” Mr Flanagan said.
Officers said the sing-song could not have come at a better time because there was a hold-up in getting the migrants onshore in an Italian port and they were getting concerned they would not be let in.
The quick thinking of Mr Flanagan’s colleagues defused a potentially difficult situation and kept spirits up until it all ended happily.
Derek Howe and relatives also travelled to the Haulbowline base in Cork from Kilkenny on Saturday to greet the return of son, Able Seaman Brian Howe, 23. Mr Howe explained that Brian had initially wanted to join the army, but he “was so proud of him” in his now chosen maritime role.
Barrister Sinead Behan, meanwhile, was there to hug husband Commander Brian FitzGerald, LÉ Eithne’s captain as he alighted from the ship.
Her welcome home was themed on the 1973 worldwide hit song ‘Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree’.
The couple’s three children, Aoibhinn, 13, and twins Doireann and Fionn, 5, were sporting yellow ribbons in their hair, and back at their home in Monkstown, Co Cork, trees were decorated in a similar manner.
“The kids have been counting the days [til Brian came home]. We are all very proud of him and the crew,” Ms Behan said.
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