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Dublin pair held over theft of €20m relic from church

TWO Dublin men were being held after the theft of a €20m church relic.

The theft of the almost 900-yearold St Manchan’s Shrine is the latest in a spate of robberies targeting valuable church artefacts.

The shrine, made at Clonmacnois about 1130 AD, was stolen from Boher church, Ballycumber, Co Offaly, shortly after 1.30pm yesterday. It is believed to be the country’s most magnificent ancient reliquary for the remains of a saint, which is said by one source to be worth up to €20m. The artefact is approximately 2.5ft in length by 2ft in height, made of yew wood and gilt bronze.

Gardai described it as of "priceless historical value". A green car was seen speeding from the scene and a massive search was launched.

A car was later stopped on the M4 close to Leixlip and two men, both known to gardai, were arrested on suspicion of theft.

One has an address in the Palmerstown area of west Dublin. The second man is originally from Dublin, but is believed to be residing in Edenderry, Co Offaly.

The two were later brought back to Tullamore Garda Station for questioning.

The two men travelled west after the incident occurred yesterday afternoon.

They were spotted travelling towards Shannonbridge and it is believed they went as far as Ballinasloe before getting back on to the M4 motorway and travelling back east.

They were apprehended by gardai close to the Leixlip slip road at approximately 6.30pm and were initially taken to Lucan Garda Station.

However, there was no sign of the relic. Searches for the shrine were continuing today.

Sources close to the case say forensic examination of the scene and the vehicle in which the two men were using may prove key to the investigation.

The two men are being held under Section 4 of the Criminal Justice Act, 1984.

Gardai have appealed for anyone with information, particularly anyone in the Boher to Shannonbridge area, to contact Tullamore Garda Station on 957 9327600.

The shrine was on public display in the church in a rural area and is a gabled box of yew wood with gilt, bronze and enamelled fittings.

The church is near to the site of St Manchan's medieval monastery at Lemanaghan. The ornamental work of the shrine is a mix of Viking and Irish styles.

Professor Karen Overbey, in a 2003 Irish studies seminar at Columbia University, said St Manchan's shrine was intended to be carried and displayed on the shoulders of monks.

There was speculation last night that the shrine would have been broken up or melted down for any precious metals.

Because of its rarity, it would be extremely difficult to sell.

The details of the shrine are recorded in the annals of the Four Masters in 1166.

It is ranked among the Treasures of Ireland and is said to be possibly the only such religious shrine to remain in its home parish.

During the 18th century the shrine was used to swear oaths in legal cases.