A DERELICT 19th-Century church has been stripped bare in the latest in a series of scrap metal raids.
St Kevin's Church in Shanakiel, Co Cork, has had all its copper and lead torn out by a gang scavenging metals which have soared in value during the recession.
The thieves even tore off limestone capping to get at old lead plating used to protect the church walls from rain and damp -- and attempted to steal metal from its bell tower.
Lead seals were also stripped from its glass windows which had been smashed by vandals some time ago.
The soaring price of commodity metals -- copper alone has increased by 50pc in price in just over two years -- has sparked a nationwide blitz in such robberies.
Such is the damage caused to St Kevin's by thieves and vandals that there are fears the listed structure may now be at risk.
Gardai admitted that the spiral in scrap thefts has been underpinned by soaring metal prices on world commodity markets -- with the thefts and resultant damage running to millions of euro over recent years.
The price of copper has soared from €4,200 per metric ton in 2008 to €6,500 a metric ton earlier this year.
Lead has similarly soared from €115 per kilo in 2008 to €195 per kilo this year while aluminium has gone from €1,215 per metric ton back in 2008 to €1,735 a metric ton this year.
Metal commodity dealers believe that prices will continue to soar given the ongoing uncertainty on global stock markets.
Gardai acknowledged that the spiralling value of scrap metal has made such thefts vastly more profitable for gangs who sell the metal on to the black market for scrap in Ireland and the UK.
"Five years ago no one would have bothered with copper cylinders. Now we have even had them being cut out and removed from houses as part of burglaries," a garda source said.