Gardaí in east Galway are investigating the theft of six valuable oil paintings by renowned artist Evie Hone from a church near Loughrea.
The six stations of the cross were among 14 gouache studies commissioned in 1945-46 by a private benefactor for the Church of St Peter and Paul at Kiltullagh.
The six stations – three from either side of the cruciform-shaped church – were reported missing by local priest Fr Martin McNamara. He made the discovery on Saturday night when he was locking up.
Fr McNamara said it was a “terrible blow” and the church community was “devastated”.
He said that earlier last week his suspicious had been aroused when the key to a side door went missing. He arranged for an alternative and kept the door locked.
The gouache studies, which were highly praised by art critics, were not secured or bolted, Fr McNamara said. The remaining works by the artist have been removed for safe keeping.
Preliminary sketches which Ms Hone made for the stations project in Kiltullagh were sold at auction last year for more than €40,000.
The Dublin-born painter and stained-glass artist, who died in 1955, created works which are in a number of churches, including the east window at Eton College's chapel in Windsor, England. One of her best-known works is My Four Green Fields in Government Buildings in Dublin.
Fr McNamara believes the works were removed quickly, and no traces were left behind.