More than 80 Irish citizens left the country on Monday on two buses bedecked with Irish tricolors, which also carried a number of Swiss and Dutch nationals. The convoy headed for the Syrian border, where they were delayed for a number of hours before proceeding to Damascus. There, Irish Department of Foreign Affairs officials and an Irish crisis response team awaited them. A welcome center was set up with food water and facilities. Another 16 Irish citizens in Syria were expected to join the group on a chartered plane to Dubai before a direct flight home to Ireland this morning in Dublin.
A pregnant woman and three other people who missed the first convoy were flown home on an Irish government jet, while arrangements are also being made for a further 50 Irish citizens who decided not to leave with the first group.
The Irish were working in a variety of jobs, including teaching, construction and business.
Technology expert Gerard Moran from Cork left Beirut with the original convoy. He was working with Palestinian refugees on education programs and had thought about staying in Beirut until he heard a defiant interview given by Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah. “That’s the first time I was really frightened,” he said.
“We are walking away from it. There’s a year’s work gone to waste. It’s a bit of a sickener to have to turn away,” his colleague Dave Doyle said.
Another man, Liam Fitzgerald from Limerick, who only arrived in Lebanon this month said initially people had thought the trouble would subside in an area used to violence in the past.
“I guess I just walked into it. It was very good for the first two weeks but then a week later, it’s a very difficult situation although I still feel fey safe where we are,” he said. Much of the Israeli bombardment has been in the south of Beirut, away from where he lives. He said the some shops and bars were remaining open despite the mayhem.
He said having made the decision to come only recently, he was reluctant to leave. Many of the Irish, he believed, were leaving because they would go on vacation anyway this time of year.
“I’m not tempted to leave. If many of the Irish didn’t have vacation planned then they’d probably stay here too. But if it gets dangerous and creeps into this area of Beirut we’ll see what we have to do. Hopefully in the next three of four days some solution will come – I don’t think they can really let this region get enveloped with trouble with the Syrians and Iranians involved. I’ll stay as long as it takes but I’ll leave if my life’s going to be in danger,” he said, adding that he hoped a solution could be found in the next few days.
Another Irishman, Brendan Cody from Dublin, who works with a delivery company and who has lived in Lebanon for 10 years also opted to stay put. He had experienced previous Israeli raids but nothing like the present events, and expressed sadness at what has happened to a country that had regenerated itself after the end of a brutal civil war in 1990.
“People were getting to the point where they thought all this was behind them. With the events of the last six days, it looks as if everybody’s hard work and effort over the last 10 years has been completely wasted,” he said.