A former solicitor has been jailed for three years for stealing almost €3m from clients' accounts to gamble on property and the stock market.

Ruairi Ó Ceallaigh, 42, pleaded guilty to seven counts of dishonestly appropriating €2.8m from seven clients' accounts in his family's law firm between 2006 and 2010.

Ó Ceallaigh used the money he stole for the "ultimate in gambling", Judge Mary Ellen Ring said.     

She said he had "gambled on the gamble".

The court heard earlier this month that Ó Ceallaigh was a devout Christian who had worked extensively for decades for a number of charities.   

But he had dealt a shattering blow to the respected law firm set up by his father, Sean.

A routine inspection by the Law Society discovered missing files.  

Ruairí Ó Ceallaigh admitted he had stolen €2.8m from seven clients over four years.  

€1.5m of this had been left in a client's will to the Archdiocese of Dublin.

The court heard he had been under pressure to repay mortgages and used the clients' money to gamble on the stock market and repay property loans.   

He told gardaí he had intended to pay the money back.  But his gambling and losses spiralled out of control.

He has been struck off the roll of solicitors and has repaid more than €400,000 of the money he took.  

The Law Society has compensated the clients.

The court heard the Dublin archdiocese was still at a loss of €750,000 and Ó Ceallaigh met the Archbishop to apologise in person.

Judge Ring said Ó Ceallaigh had committed the most fundamental breaches of trust as a solicitor.  

She said if he had been convicted following a trial, a sentence of eight years would not have been excessive.

However, she said to his credit he entered early guilty pleas and co-operated with gardaí.

She imposed a five-year sentence and suspended the final two years.