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Metal thefts: sculptures and artefacts stolen around Ireland

The recovery of part of a stolen historic bell in Co Kerry has highlighted the rise in such thefts in Ireland over the past few years.

The Gráinne Óg statue stolen from the slip road to Moate off the M6.
The Gráinne Óg statue stolen from the slip road to Moate off the M6.
Image: Image: Google Maps

PART OF AN HISTORIC bell stolen from a converted church in Co Kerry was recovered earlier this week. The artefact was stolen from the Ivyleaf Arts Centre in Castleisland a fortnight earlier.

The bell is believed to be just one of 16 cast by bell-founder Thomas Rudhall in Gloucestershire England in the 18th century and its theft highlighted the rising number of metal thefts in Ireland in recent years.

Some of the higher profile thefts of artefacts and art objects that have been stolen in the past two years include:

  • In Co Laois, a plaque and sculpture commemorating the loss of children and young people in the community of Castletown was pulled from its foundations late last year and has not been recovered
  • A bronze and steel sculpture titled ‘Gráinne Óg’ was stolen from the M6 slip road to Moate, Co Westmeath in March 2011. Seven metres high, the statue weighed a ton
  • The bronze statue ‘The Hitchhiker’ (valued at over €30,000) was stolen from roadside site near Monasterevin in March 2011. Made by artist Willie Malone, the figure was 12 feet tall and weighed a ton
  • A bronze piece depicting the mythical goddess Danu was stolen from the N72 near Rathmore, Co Kerry  in February 2011
  • In February 2012, the attempted robbery of a bronze statue of John B Keane in his native Listowel was foiled by a concerned passer-by
  • A distinctive tabernacle bearing Celtic designs was stolen from St Brigid’s Church, Killester, Dublin in January 2012
  • Religious relics said to contain fragments of the ‘True Cross’ were stolen from Holy Cross Abbey in Co Tipperary late last year. The relics, made from silver, gold and bronze, were later recovered and had not been seriously damaged.

The Danú sculpture stolen from outside Rathmore on the road to Killarney, Co Kerry. (Image: Google Maps)

Security

David Walsh, group CEO of security firm Netwatch, told TheJournal.ie that churches need to be particularly vigilant these days – even in terms of traditional security measures like having a working burglar alarm and an accessible keyholder who can respond to it if required.

It’s important to ensure the structure is itself secure with good locks and that a building doesn’t look like it’s being left vacant, so keeping the grounds in good shape and having good lighting can help to ward off prospective raiders.

“We have a network of around 30 churchs in Ireland that we protect, and they would have been victims of theft in the past – theft of lead and copper from the roof,” he said. “A lot of these break-ins, like lead, take place at night time.”

“It’s very simple to steal lead, it’s just a matter of getting onto the roof with a few tools, but we’ve seen some very sophisticated equipment used to strip copper. They arrive at a vacant property or communication structure and can strip the copper within minutes.”

Stealing a one-ton statue from the side of the road would require a bit more effort than stealing lead because the sculpture has to be removed from its foundations or stand and removed from the scene. The damage done to remove the the sculptures from their setting suggests they will be broken up and sold for scrap metal.

A metal theft forum has been set up under the Garda National Crime Prevention Unit to develop a metal theft prevention and crime reduction plan. The forum involves a number of different organisations and groups which have been particularly affected by metal thefts, such as the ESB, breweries and the farming community.

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