OPPORTUNISTIC thieves could not believe their luck when they discovered an Aladdin's cave of antique jewellery after breaking into the home of a collector and his wife.
They made off with a haul of gems, estimated to be worth at least €600,000, after ransacking the house at Liffey Lawns in Clane, Co Kildare.
Gardai said last night they believed the gang had been watching houses in the estate for several days before the burglary and they were trying to trace a van that had been seen there during that time.
The jewellery is owned by a retired professional couple, who inherited much of it but also purchased several expensive items, particularly in India.
One investigating officer told the Irish Independent last night: "A lot of the gems had been passed down through the family over several decades and were regarded as heirlooms."
Officers think the house had been selected at random rather than targeted by the thieves, who ransacked several rooms in the house.
The owners use the house occasionally as they also live overseas.
Their son lives there permanently but works in Dublin and was absent from the house from 7.15am to 7.15pm on November 14 last when it was burgled.
The thieves broke in through a side window and then forced their way into other rooms, smashing a safe, which contained a large amount of the jewellery.
Gardai said last night they were following up a number of lines of inquiry and, although they had not ruled out locally-based criminals in north Kildare, were also focusing on travelling gangs from outside the county.
Photographs and descriptions of the stolen items are to be put on display on RTE's 'Crimecall' programme next week.
Officers have appealed to anybody who spotted suspicious activity in the Liffey Lawns estate during the middle of last month, or was aware of attempts to sell off jewellery around the country, to contact them at Clane station, at 045 868262, or phone the confidential line, 1800 666111.
Meanwhile, gardai investigating the theft of €1.5m worth of jewellery from socialite couple Lisa Murphy and Gerald Kean last May said that despite extensive inquiries they had found no trace of the missing haul.
Masked, armed men tied Ms Murphy to a chair in her bedroom after threatening to cut off her finger in the house at Three Mile Water in Brittas Bay, Co Wicklow.