Russborough House is no stranger to art thefts. The first major robbery happened in 1974, when an IRA gang, which included British heiress Dr Rose Dugdale, stole 19 paintings at a value of £8m. The haul included a Vermeer, a Goya, two Gainsboroughs and three Rubens. Sir Alfred Beit, the 71-year-old owner of the mansion, and one of his staff were struck with revolvers, before being tied up in the library, where they watched the gang cut rare paintings from their frames with a screwdriver.

The IRA attempted to have four members who had bombed London transferred to prison in Belfast in return for five of the most important paintings in a ransom demand. However, Gardaí recovered all the paintings eleven days later in a raid on a rented cottage in Glandore, County Cork. English millionaire's daughter Dr Rose Dugdale was jailed for nine years for her part in the robbery as well as other paramilitary crimes.

Twelve years later in May 1986, £30m-worth of paintings were stolen by Dublin criminal Martin Cahill. After a huge international police operation, most were recovered in Britain and Belgium. The most dramatic incident took place in Turkey. After failing to sell the paintings, Cahill had turned to loyalist paramilitaries who brought a Metzu miniature to the country in the belief that art dealers might buy it. Instead, they were met by Turkish police who arrested three men.

Over a dozen paintings from the Beit collection were donated to the State in 1987, but neither of the works stolen today are State-owned.