Families began arriving at Dublin airport early this afternoon to welcome back troops from the 120th Battalion - who had been deployed in May to South Lebanon.

A piper played Christmas carols as people waited excitedly for the arrival of flight DB3012 from Beirut.

They included brother and sister Erica (7) and Adam (9) who had made homemade signs to welcome back their dad, Sergeant Dean Hickey.

Greeting them both with a hug and a kiss he said: "It's after being a long six months. It's been a really enjoyable six months and a busy six months. Lots of work done, but I'm just delighted to be back now with my family today and the families that are here waiting, the families at home, the loved ones really are the unsung heroes of the Defence Forces, they enable us to do what we go to do."

Sergeant Denise Doyle was reunited with her daughter Erin who asked her if she would be putting up the Christmas decorations tomorrow in time for the Toy Show: "This is all I've been hearing, this is what she wants for the Toy Show, so that's my day tomorrow," she said.

This was her seventh mission abroad and she said she had been away on previous Christmases, so this one being at home would be special.

"This is the first time I've been home for Christmas on one of the missions so delighted to be back. Time now to chill and do nothing."

Captain Danny Duffy was greeted by his sons, Adam (11) and Seanie (8) along with 2-year-old Sophie who he said he hadn't seen for almost a year.

"It's been hard but we do it, it's grand, we get around it. It's hard on my wife, so it is... they're trying to juggle work and juggle home and find babysitters and we've a set routine and a set job. It's a lot easier for us. It's the family at home that really suffer."

Lieutenant Colonel Denis Hanly, the Officer Commanding the Battalion said it had been a tense time on the ground in Lebanon in recent months.

"We'd a lot of operations to conduct by day and by night. There's very much in Lebanon, no more than Ireland, a post-Covid situation, so our aim was to get back into the villages, get back into foot patrols, get back into what we call market walks."

He said the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) troops had worked with school children there on educational projects and with their Polish colleagues to help control a worsening cholera outbreak there, the first since the early 1990s.

"Particularly our Polish soldiers, as we're a joint battalion, they were able to get involved in educating people about cholera precautions."

He said the recent changes in Lebanon including soaring inflation and the lack of availability of affordable food had been "extremely stressful" for the local population.

"That adds to the complexity of the environment we operate in on the ground," he said. "And I think in Ireland we have an empathy with that because of our own economic difficulties in the last decade as well."

He said for 140 soldiers, or about one-third of the whole battalion, this was their first tour of duty.

"I think 40% of the unit are under 22 years of age, so there's a lot of young soldiers, sailors and airmen and women from across the Defence Forces."

He was greeted by his own family, including his wife and two of his three children.

"It's great to come home for Christmas... it's always a great day and a real feel-good buzz for us on an occasion like today," he said.