The priceless art collection at stately Russborough House in County Wicklow is the target of thieves for a fourth time on September 29, 2002. The thieves use a jeep to smash their way into the property and make off with a haul of art treasures.
The raid happens shortly before dawn, when the gang drives across the fields from a back road leading from Blessington to Ballymore Eustace in a four wheel drive Mitsubishi. The thieves mount the steps at the back of the house and smash a window leading to a room known as the salon. They take less than five minutes to snatch five paintings from the wall of the drawing room of the home. They speed away from the scene using the same route as the alarm alerts gardai in local stations to which the system is linked. The noise also wakes an elderly caretaker who also contacts the gardai.
The gang abandons the jeep on the side of the Ballymore Eustace road and switch to a waiting vehicle. They are on their way back to Dublin before the gardai reach the house.
Two paintings by the renowned artist Sir Peter Paul Rubens are stolen, including Portrait of a Dominican Monk, which had previously been stolen in 1986 by the notorious Dublin crime boss Martin Cahill, known as The General, but was subsequently recovered. Also missing is The Cornfield by Jacob van Ruisdael.
The heist at Russborough comes just days after two paintings, by Thomas Gainsborough and Belotto, are recovered from the last haul snatched from the house in June 2001. Detectives from the arts and antiques section of the national bureau of criminal investigation recover the two paintings in south Dublin.
There is widespread speculation that the latest heist is masterminded by a major Dublin criminal and former close associate of The General, who is responsible for the 1986 theft from the house. It is suggested that the latest robbery might be an act of revenge for the recovery of the earlier paintings two days earlier, although Gardai involved in this case say that is “pure speculation.” Another theory is that it is a copycat burglary inspired by publicity surrounding the previous thefts. Gardai believe that whoever is involved in the theft knew the layout of the house and the surrounding countryside as well as the value of the contents.
(Pictured: Russborough House in County Wicklow | Glanville, Lynn. “Fourth Robbery in 30 Years Art Heist from Russborough.” Independent.ie. 4 October 2002)