A LIMERICK-based gang are the prime suspects in the raid on the 18th Century Castlehyde House home of Lord of the Dance star Michael Flatley.
Valuables and an African rhino horn worth up to €400,000 were stolen by the four-man gang who fled after being accidentally disturbed by the dancer at the sprawling north Cork property.
Gardai are now convinced that the robbery at 6pm last night was not a random burglary but the work of the Rathkeale-based gang who are also believed to be responsible for the theft of four rhino heads from the National Museum last year.
Rhino horns can be worth over €250,000 on the Asian black market where they are used for traditional medicines.
The Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB) targeted the Limerick gang in a series of raids last September but they are understood to be still operating.
The dancer was uninjured but said to be shocked by the incident.
The Chicago-born star was playing computer games with his son, Michael Jnr., and wife, Niamh, when he heard a suspicious noise coming from one wing of his mansion.
He turned on the lights in that wing of the house to investigate but was shocked to see dark-clothed figures running away across the lawn and driveway.
A car then started up and drove away at speed towards the main Fermoy-Mallow road.
The dancer ran back to the house to check on his family and then discovered that one wing had been broken into and his safari room raided.
When he got back to the driveway the thieves had vanished.
The alarm was raised and Gardai were at the scene within minutes including armed detectives.
The dancer had disturbed the thieves before they had a chance to ransack other valuables from the property.
The thieves are believed to have maintained surveillance on the property for some time and then entered at night.
However, they mistakenly thought the house was unoccupied but the star and his family had travelled back at short notice to spend a brief holiday in Cork from their London base.
Detectives said the gang decided to press ahead with the robbery despite the obvious fact Castlehyde was occupied.
Gardai and the dancer’s employees are now engaged in a detailed check of the house inventory however an African rhino head is missing.
Castlehyde House – purchased by the star in 2001 for €4.5m – was renovated and refurbished at a cost of almost €30m.
The star has a hunting room in the property which included the mounted African rhino including its horn.
Gardai have confirmed that the rhino horn was stolen but are now checking to see what works of art, jewellery and books may be missing.
Initial checks indicated that none of the major art works were taken.
The star has a famous collection of rifles and shotguns but these are kept in a bulletproof case which was untouched by the thieves.
The star has lavished a fortune on art, fixtures and fittings for the 18th Century house.
His three-storey library also includes a number of priceless first editions including such works as James Joyce’s Ulysses.
The star was unavailable for comment but was said to be “devastated and disgusted” by the robbery though relieved no-one was hurt.
His Castlehyde employees have been working for him for over a decade and are considered by the star to be family.
Gardai are now appealing for anyone who may have spotted suspicious activity near Castlehyde or along the Fermoy-Mallow Road over the last few days.
It remains unclear how the gang managed to bypass the sophisticated security systems around Castlehyde.
They are now satisfied that the raiders did not use a boat to approach the mansion via the River Blackwater which flows in front of Castlehyde.
Gardai are now checking CCTV security camera footage from premises around Fermoy to determine the movements of truck and vans.
Four years ago Gardai foiled a planned raid on the property by another Limerick-based gang which was only in its planning stages.