A mother-of-three who was lost up a mountain for 18 hours says she survived on a Mars bar, water and prayers to the Sacred Heart.
Rita Hickey, from Oola, Co Limerick, slept in a forest after she lost her companion while out walking on the Galtee Mountains yesterday afternoon.
The alarm was raised when the 46-year-old failed to return home that evening and a massive search operation was mounted by members of the Garda, the South Eastern Mountain Rescue Association, relatives and locals, but they failed to locate her.
The search resumed again at dawn today when a Garda helicopter and a helicopter from the Shannon Rescue Service began searching the vast mountain area which straddles the Cork, Tipperary and Limerick borders.
More than 30 soldiers from Kickham's Barracks, Clonmel, and Sarsfield's Barracks in Limerick city were also called in to assist in the search.
At 11am today Mrs Hickey, who is an experienced hillwalker, was found safe and sound by a farmer on the Cork side of the Galtee mountains.
She was re-united with her three daughters shortly afterwards and spoke today about her 18-hour ordeal, describing how she had to wade through a river for four miles in her desperate bid to get home.
"I lost my walking companion at around 4.40pm and I sat on a rock and thought that I could either sit there for the night and freeze or I could keep walking.
"I decided to keep walking. It was very cold and there was a heavy mist over the mountains, so it was difficult to see as it was dark too," she recalled.
"I walked for about five miles and I found a forest area. I sat under a tree and slept for about two hours.
"Of course I was scared but I just kept thinking of getting home to my three lovely daughters and I said lots of prayers to the Sacred Heart.
"I really think it was a case of mind-over-matter. I could have started to panic but I didn't," she added.
The 46-year-old woke at 5.30am this morning and waded through a river for four miles in her bid to find her way home.
She had no mobile phone with her and survived on leftovers from lunch. "I had a Mars bar and some water left over from the lunch we had earlier, so I ate that and it kept me going.
"I had a walking stick with me too and I waved that at the helicopters when I saw them flying overhead but unfortunately they couldn't see me because it was so dark," she said.
A non-smoker and a non-drinker, Mrs Hickey is a member of the Galtee Walking Club and she walks, swims and cycles regularly.
The farmer who found her, Pat O'Boyle, had been part of the search party. "I want to thank everybody who was involved in the search and I want to say a big thank you to Pat O'Boyle who found me and drove me to Tipperary town," Mrs Hickey said.
Mrs Hickey's three daughters Claire (19) Niamh (18) and Ria (10) celebrated their mother's safe return this morning with relatives and friends.
"We are thrilled, absolutely delighted. We were very worried when she didn't return home by 9.30pm," said her daughter Niamh.
"She must have used all her experience overnight. She is a very good hill-walker," she added.