A farmer has spoken of his shock after discovering his livelihood had been virtually wiped out after 75 cattle and 25 sheep were stolen in a daring heist.
Niall Dillon (34), a full-time farmer and cattle transporter, said thieves must have been watching his movements and his premises after 100 animals valued at around €100,000 were stolen overnight on Wednesday or on Thursday morning, from the lands in Cornaher, Kilbeggan, Co Westmeath.
The first sign he had that anything was amiss was when he noticed that the lock had been cut on the gate leading into the farm that he had rented 4km from his home.
"Like a lot of people I would have thought that a lock was enough," Mr Dillon said. "I noticed nothing over the past few weeks but they have to have been watching the place."
Gardaí have appealed for anyone who might have seen any unusual animal transport activity in the area to contact them.
The farmland is close to the N6 old Dublin Road between Kilbeggan and Tyrrellspass. It is believed the 100 animals were stolen between 9pm on Wednesday and 1.15pm on Thursday.
"There were four cattle in the field and that is all. The shed was empty," he said. "Everything was gone." He said neither of his neighbours were close enough to have heard any activity.
Mr Dillon said CCTV footage from the Tyrrellspass area had captured a lorry and single trailer, and also a lorry with a double-decker trailer that may potentially have been involved.
"They were large lorries with plenty of capacity and gardaí are searching CCTV on routes that they may have taken," he said, adding it was difficult to tell what the final market was for the animals.
The Irish Farmers' Association (IFA) national livestock chair Henry Burns said such a large volume of animals "cannot have vanished into thin air" and it would have had to have been planned.
All were tagged and are fully traceable under the Department of Agriculture's system. The animals taken included nine cows and nine calves, and included around 15 Charolais continental crossbreeds. Gardaí said it was unusual for such a large volume of animals to be taken.
Figures from the Department of Agriculture recently showed that 59 cattle were reported missing from farms between January and June 9, with 146 stolen during all of 2014.
Paddy Donnelly, the IFA's Westmeath livestock chair, said it would have been a "major undertaking" to round them up.
Paul Daly, a neighbouring farmer and councillor, said it was a worry for those in the area and for "all farmers in rural Ireland when such a thing can happen in the dead of night".
Anyone with any information has been asked to contact gardaí at 090 6498550.