UN peacekeepers arrive at airport to warm welcome

Fri, May 18, 2012, 01:00

ELEVEN-YEAR-OLD Sophie Burke wants a new phone now that her father is home. Holding a sign saying, “Welcome home, Daddy”, Sophie eagerly waited at Dublin Airport’s Terminal 1 for her father, Pte Christopher Burke.

He is a UN peacekeeper along the border between Israel and the Lebanon, and got back from a six-month tour yesterday.

Nearly 40 children made the airport their playground for the day, keeping entertained until the men and women of the Irish mission got back to Dublin. Cries of “Daddy, Daddy” could be heard as the first soldiers appeared from behind the arrival gates.

Anticipation had been growing for hours before the delayed Beirut to Dublin flight landed.

Mary Cooney (26) from Kilkenny paced the lobby, having waited six months to see her boyfriend, Pte John Rickard (28), from Cork.

The men and women of Camp Shamrock, Tibin, south Lebanon, were home.

A tearful Cpl Jemma Donovan from Cork was reunited with her niece and nephew, Catherine and Patrick Caddell. Fellow peacekeeper Pte Eileen Mangan from Kerry noted it was just as hard for women as men in the Army. “It’s equally as difficult . . . You are away from family and friends for six months – it’s not easy on anybody, really.”

Some 24 other women are also members of the battalion.

Company Sgt Sean Cosgrave from Clonmel, Co Tipperary, a father of seven, has been involved in 18 tours around the world including periods in east and central Africa, Bosnia, Kosovo and 11 stints in Lebanon. His first tour overseas was in 1979.

“I speak fairly well and I get along with the people,” he said. When asked where he would like to go on his next tour, he said back to Lebanon. “It was quite. We hadn’t any problems and the people in the area, they absolutely loved the Irish and the Irish got along well with them.”

The peacekeepers interact with the civilian population, liaise with the Lebanese army and patrol the border. The battalion was tasked with keeping peace along the “blue line” between Israel and the Lebanon, ensuring the only armed force in the area was the United Nations and the Lebanese Army.

A joint peacekeeping tour of 330 Irish and 180 Finnish peacekeepers will replace the battalion.