A 92-year-old man and his 89-year-old wife were terrorised in a horrific New Year's Eve aggravated burglary when a gang of up to five masked men stormed their home.
It is understood more than €8,000 in cash was stolen in the incident when the property in Newbridge, Co Kildare, was ransacked.
The elderly man is a well known member of the horse racing community and neither he nor his wife was injured.
Detectives believe the robbery was carried out by a local organised crime gang and they may have a breakthrough in the case after an imitation firearm used to terrorise the couple was discarded at the scene.
"This item will be the subject of a full forensic examination and the fake handgun could prove to be the undoing of this gang," a senior source said.
The Herald can also reveal that detectives are investigating whether the same gang were responsible for a similar burglary in Athy, Co Kildare, on December 18 last.
"It was very similar in that at least four men aged in their 30s stormed the house through the front door," a senior source explained.
"The unfortunate difference was that a 70-year-old occupant of the house put up a fight and he ended up being badly beaten with an implement.
"They then ransacked his home but got away with less than €100.
"Gardaí believe that the same local gang is involved in both incidents."
When gardaí were alerted to Thursday evening's aggravated burglary, officers were busy organising a raid on a shebeen behind a house in the town in which 15 punters were caught drinking alcohol.
"The information that was coming is that kegs were coming into that place every couple of days and it was a very organised situation," the source said.
"However this was not a commercial enterprise in the sense that no one was making a profit.
"Gardaí believe it had been going on for some time and essentially involved a person organising matters for his buddies but what happened is a serious breach of health regulations."
Senior sources say the local crime gang suspected of the burglary also have links to the surge in thefts of catalytic converters from vehicles and a spate of other crimes.
"Gardaí in Newbridge are appealing for information following an aggravated burglary," a garda spokeswoman said.
"At approximately 5.15pm, the homeowner answered the front door to four or five masked men, who were armed with what was believed to be a firearm, and forced their way in the house.
"Both homeowners were uninjured during the incident but were treated for shock by paramedics.
"A large amount of cash was taken during the robbery.
"Gardaí are appealing to any person who may have information in relation to this incident to come forward.
"Gardaí are particularly interested in speaking with any person who may have seen anything unusual in Parc Mhuire between 5pm and 6.30pm yesterday evening.
"(They also want to speak to) anyone who can assist in the investigation to contact Newbridge garda station on 045 431212, the Garda Confidential Line 1 800 666 111 or any garda station."