A CHILD who found a loaded sawn-off shotgun in the garden of a derelict house told gardai "my eardrums nearly burst" when another boy fired the weapon.
Matthew Monaghan (9) was one of a group of children playing in the back garden of a boarded-up house when they found the firearm in a shed.
The child, still shaken by his experience, told of how the children "were just building a fort". He said: "Then we went inside (the shed) and we found a shotgun." Asked about the moment his friend fired the gun he said: "It was pointed at the wall. It was very, very loud."
The children fled after the incident, which occurred between 4.30pm and 5.30pm on Wednesday. Neighbours spoke of hearing a noise that sounded "like a bomb".
One of the children raised the alarm that a gun had been found because they were concerned that another child had been hurt because they were screaming. The children found the weapon in a house in the Palace Crescent estate on the outskirts of Longford town.
The property is one of several in the neighbourhood that's boarded up with plywood and locals believe it was being used as a drugs den. People are often seen entering and leaving the house through a makeshift entrance cut into the wood sealing the front door.
The back garden is strewn with rubbish, including an old mattress and beer cans.
Matthew's mother, Laura, said it was well-known that children play in the area and expressed her disbelief that someone had left a loaded gun at the property.
She said she had been crying all day, adding: "It's just so stressful. I had real trouble sleeping last night.
"Nobody was hurt and thank God. Why leave a loaded gun around kids, you know?"
According to Laura, her son was "absolutely frantic" when he arrived home after the incident. She added: "Whoever left that needs a good hell of a boot.
"What were they thinking of? One of these kids could have been killed yesterday."
The shotgun was one of three firearms that had been stolen in a burglary in Tyrellspass, Co Westmeath, six years ago.
Last night forensic tests were being carried out on the weapon by officers from the garda technical bureau to establish if it had been used in any crime since the burglary.
Shotgun cartridges were also found at the scene and taken away by gardai.
Officers said last night that the children had a lucky escape and condemned those responsible for leaving the loaded weapon in a place where children were known to play.
Gardai said the matter was "still under investigation".