An early Christian grave stone has been stolen from Inchcleraun Island on Lough Rea.

Gardaí are investigating the theft of an early Christian grave slab from inside an old church on Inchcleraun Island, Lough Rea in Roscommon.

The theft is a significant loss for the archaeological world as the slab is an irreplaceable Christian treasure dating from 800 AD. Measuring three foot by one foot four inches, the slab was carved on both sides.

It is of great archaeological significance and it's believed a number of people were involved in its removal from its island resting place.

Chris Flynn of the Office of Public Works (OPW) explains how the slab had been moved into the church building for safekeeping. He assumes that a child got in through the church window and lifted it out to adults. 

As part of our heritage, it's priceless really. Monetarily, it might fetch a great deal of money if there was a market for it but we've closed off that market, we think now.

Chris Flynn believes there is a market for this type of stone in the same way as there is a market for stolen works of art.

Most similar grave stones from around the country are being taken indoors and placed under lock and key. Anyone found guilty of stealing these artefacts is liable to a fine of £50,000 and or a twelve month prison sentence.

An RTÉ News report broadcast on 24 August 1989. The reporter is Kevin McDonald.