AN Irish priest murdered in Kenya was stripped naked and stabbed in the throat by robbers who stole his blood-stained clothes, a CD player and two mobile phones.
Shocking details of the killing of Fr Jeremiah (Jerry) Roche (68) emerged last night as police in the troubled east African country hunted two suspects.
The youngest of 11 siblings, Fr Roche's family confirmed last night that he had planned to retire to his home parish in Athea, Co Limerick, next year.
His niece, Anne Cunningham, said the family were "shocked and saddened" over the news of his death as arrangements were made to bring his body home.
The killing took place close to Kericho, the centre of the country's tea industry which last year saw serious post-election violence between rival tribal groups. The town is 190 miles west of the Kenyan capital Nairobi.
Relatives were telephoned yesterday morning by the Wicklow-based Kiltegan Fathers -- the order of which the slain priest was a member for more than 40 years.
Fr Roche was at St Patrick's Keongo parish house when the robbers cut through an iron grille covering the priest's bedroom window.
It is understood the priest was stripped naked, had his hands tied to a chair before he was stabbed in the throat and struck on the head with a blunt object.
His blood-stained clothes were recovered a kilometre away from his residence.
The Kericho District Commissioner, Samuel Njora, said a major hunt is under way for the killers.
The body of the priest was taken to Kericho's Siloam hospital and prayers were said for Fr Roche in the town last night.
Speaking to the Kenyan Broadcasting Corporation yesterday, Kericho's Bishop Emmanuel Okombo described the murder as "brutal" and called on the government to act fast by catching the culprits.
The popular priest had served as Keongo parish priest for two years from Chebang'ang' parish in Konoin district.
He was alone in the parish house and his body was found when a house assistant arrived to prepare his breakfast.
The Irish priest had served in Kenya for the last 41 years in Kipkelion, Kericho, Roret, Chebang'ang' and Kipchimchim parishes in the Kericho diocese.
He was the only Catholic priest in the parish and had recently overseen the building of a church there.
President Mary McAleese led tributes to the slain cleric last night. Foreign Affairs Minister Micheal Martin said he was shocked and saddened to hear of the death.
President Mary McAleese expressed her "deepest sympathy" to the family of Fr Roche and the entire community of Kiltegan Fathers.
"Our thoughts and prayers are especially with the Roche family as they face this sad loss and tragic news," the President said.
Speaking in Brussels, Taoiseach Brian Cowen also expressed his sympathy to the extended family of Fr Jeremiah Roche.
Fr Roche's niece Anne added: "He was always at mass in the morning at 6am and when he didn't show up they went to the house and that's when they found him," she said.
"Some of his family are in Chicago so we are just trying to ensure they all know about it," she said.
"Jerry was a lovely man, he devoted his life to his faith and the church and he is someone whom we are all very proud of.
"There were five boys and six girls in his family growing up and he was the only one to become a priest. Everyone was very proud of him and his faith and dedication to the church in Africa. He loved it over there," Anne said.
"He was ordained in '68 and has been back and forth to Africa since. He returned earlier this year and loved to call into the neighbours and catch up," she said.
"He spent time working as a priest in Castleisland, Co Kerry, in Bruff, Co Limerick, and Grenagh, Co Cork, and was always fundraising for schools and churches in Kenya.
"Even when he was home, he was working to raise money for his parish in Kenya and always received great support from everyone in west Limerick," his niece said.
"He loved the Irish language and would always try to speak it to anyone else who could," she added.
"He was a great man for following Limerick hurling and would always try to make the games when he came home. We are just terribly sad here. All we have are good thoughts of Jerry," Anne said. "With everything that is going on in the church now, he was a real role model," she added.