There were hugs and kisses, a few tears of joy and bundles of pride yesterday as the sailors disembarked from the Naval Service flagship following a nine-week humanitarian operation which saw them save the lives of 3,377 migrants from the Mediterranean Sea.
Amy Fox, whose husband Colm is a lieutenant on the ship, really pulled out all the stops. She got special mugs made for all the officers to commemorate the mission and her mother, Fran, was on hand to give out roses to the crew as they disembarked.
Amy was delighted that Colm was home in time for their daughter Iseult’s ninth birthday next week and to see son Sebastian, 2.
“Whatever loneliness there was while he was away was outweighed by the knowledge of the great work they were doing,” Amy said. “Iseult would go to school and say her daddy helped rescue 200 people the previous night. She’s so proud of him.”
Donna Stapleton got her two children, Ewan, 9, and Fay, 7, specially decked out in t-shirts whichproclaimed ‘Welcome Home Daddy’ on the front and ‘Le Eithne’ on the rear. She said they had missed their father Stephen terribly because the longest patrol he’d previously been on was four weeks.
“We’re very proud of him, it’s brilliant what they’ve done,” Donna said.
Dean O’Hare got a huge hug from mum Paula as he came down the gangplank. Meanwhile, his father, Des, admitted he was “very envious” of his son’s achievements.
Des, who retired from the Navy recently, said: “I really wanted to go with him on that trip. This is the proudest day of my life.”
He said the mission would do wonders for Naval Service recruitment and, to prove it, lined up his other sons, Killian, 18, Darren, 15, and Josh, 13, who all said they couldn’t wait to join up.
Ben Reilly, 6, produced a collage for his dad, Seán, which featured pictures of him, a painting of the ship, lovehearts, and a medal.
His mother, Aisling, said to celebrate the homecoming the family were going to have a few nights away in Clonakilty, Co Cork.
Petty Officer Tom O’Donovan, who has 17 years service under his belt, was greeted at the quayside by fiancee, Colette, and son Cillian, 2.
“I’m bursting with pride and I’m delighted to have him home safe,” Colette said, adding that they would get married in Cobh next month.
Tom said the mission had been hard work, but helping the migrants made him appreciate the life he has.
“We had to deal with children, some a couple of weeks old. It wasn’t easy, but I would do it all again,” he said.
Army medic Private Sonya Harrington was one of only two women on the mission.
Sonya, who lives in Dundalk, said a lot of the migrants were very dehydrated when they got them onboard. Others were suffering from sea sickness and low blood sugar levels.
“A number of women had chemical burns from sitting down in the diesel [on the wooden barges]. One had 20 degree burns on her backside and legs and she was also pregnant. We had to treat her very carefully,” Sonya said.