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Armed raiders offer priest cup of tea as they ransack home

BURGLARS offered a priest a cup of tea and prayed for forgiveness as they robbed a parochial house at knifepoint.

MONSIGNOR Michael Cooke and his housekeeper were held captive for 30 minutes while thugs ransacked the property.

Three men, believed to be in their 20s, forced their way into the home of the cleric in Belturbet, Co Cavan on Monday evening.

The raiders, who were armed with a hammer and a knife, demanded money from the church's weekend collection.

"A knock came at the back door. When I answered it there were three men and they came walking in," Msgr Cooke said.

One of the raiders, who spoke with a Traveller and Dublin accent, stood over them wielding a hammer while another of the gang said: "We want the money, she'll be the first to get the blow with this hammer."

The robbery took an unusual twist when one of the men asked the priest and his housekeeper if they wanted a cup of tea.

"One of the men standing over me with a hammer asked us if we wanted a cup of tea, which we declined.

"My housekeeper was terrified; it was the worst ordeal she had ever experienced," Msgr Cooke said.

He also described how one of the men kept blessing himself and saying 'Father, forgive me'.

Phones

The raiders forced the pair into a downstairs lavatory before making off with the priest's car keys and two mobile phones, and €100 from his housekeeper's purse.

Msgr Cooke said his housekeeper is still traumatised.

"I certainly wouldn't look forward to another episode like that," he said.

While he wouldn't say whether he has forgiven the raiders, he said their experience was nothing in comparison to the fatal shooting of Det Gda Adrian Donohoe in Dundalk last Friday night.

"We didn't suffer anything compared to that robbery in Dundalk," he said, adding he will now increase security at the parochial house following the robbery.

Meanwhile, local gardai said they believe the same gang may be behind a similar recent robbery across the border at a parish hall in Kinawley, Co Fermanagh.

kdoyle@herald.ie