Unholy €25K art heist in Limerick shocks priests

Anne Sheridan

Reporter:

Anne Sheridan

Stripped bare:  Fr Tom Ryan stands in front of one the frames where the paintings were cut out with a stanley knife, in the Holy Rosary church on the Ennis Road, where the theft occurred. Picture: Michael Cowhey
PRAYERS were said at the weekend for the return of five paintings stolen from the Holy Rosary church in Limerick, which are estimated to be worth at least €25,000.

PRAYERS were said at the weekend for the return of five paintings stolen from the Holy Rosary church in Limerick, which are estimated to be worth at least €25,000.

The religious paintings by the renowned artist the late Fr Jack Hanlon had been hanging proudly in the Ennis Road church for over 50 years.

But on Wednesday last - some 20 minutes after Fr Tom Ryan left the church - a thief with a newspaper covering his face entered the church and cut the five paintings out of their frames with a stanley knife.

Chief Superintendent Dave Sheahan said they are appealing for the public’s assistance in this case, and will be circulating images of the stolen works to alert the public and any potential buyers.

“People are very shocked, as indeed am I,” said Fr William Walsh.

“It’s a dreadful and very unfortunate thing to happen. We had 100 people at mass on Thursday morning and people were very distressed and annoyed. At first some people thought the paintings had been removed for restoration,” he told the Limerick Leader.

Measuring about three feet long by five feet wide, the works were valued at €5,000 each when they were assessed by a local evaluator in 2010.

However, it’s understood they could be worth considerably more, as one work by Dublin born Fr Hanlon, who died in 1968, recently sold for as much as six times that figure in the United States.

His work was recently featured in an exhibition in the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA) in Dublin, which went on to tour the country.

The paintings depict St Patrick, St Brigid, St Oliver Plunkett, Jesus in the carpenter’s shop with the Holy Family, and Pope Pius IX.

“People are very upset by this, especially our older parishioners who remember when the paintings were first mounted in the church,” said Fr Ryan.

“It’s hard to know what they could do with them. It’s a big shock.”

The theft is believed to have occurred at about 12.50pm.

The paintings were specifically painted for the church by Fr Hanlon after it opened in 1950.

The famous art collector John Hunt introduced the artist to Monsignor Michael Moloney, a parish priest who later became Diocesan secretary to successive bishops of Limerick, and who had a great interest in history and the arts. Hunt encouraged a number of artists at the time to contribute to the decoration of the church, and also loaned items from his own collection to the church for its opening.

Art dealers have been informed of the theft.