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gunmen stole an annotated first edition of Jonathan Swift's clas

Paramilitaries suspected of art raid

PARAMILITARY involvement was suspected yesterday when masked gunmen stole an
annotated first edition of Jonathan Swift's classic Gulliver's Travels during a
raid on a library in the cathedral city of Armagh. The librarian, Harry Carson,
said: "One cannot help but think that there was a paramilitary connection. If
such things have been chosen for a collector who has ordered them for a private
collection, we will never see them again."

Vincent McKenna, founder of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Bureau, which has
highlighted the continuing high level of armed robberies by republican and
loyalist groups, said: "It is highly unlikely that anyone not connected with a
republican or loyalist group could operate with a gun in Armagh. It is a very
tightly controlled place indeed."

Because the robbers were seen heading towards the Shambles, a staunch republican
district, there was strong speculation that either the IRA or dissident
republicans might have carried out the robbery for fundraising.

The Royal Ulster Constabulary refused to make any comment, saying that it had no
immediate indication of paramilitary involvement.

In the 1980s, the IRA was suspected of involvement in the kidnapping of Shergar,
the racehorse, but its role was never proved.

Mr Carson said that the GBP.30,000 copy of Gulliver's Travels, dated 1726,
contained handwritten alterations to key words in the text by the author. "Swift
had underlined the ones he wanted changed and written in the alternatives over
the top. I hope that the changes he wanted were incorporated into later
editions. I have never checked," he added.

The two raiders gained entry to the public library at 9.45am posing as
researchers. They donned balaclava masks as they climbed to the first floor
where they pointed a gun at Lorraine Frazer, a 22-year-old assistant and the
only person present, before tying her up.

They then smashed glass cases containing literary and other treasures from the
collection of artefacts and made off with a haul valued by Mr Carson at about
GBP.170,000. Other stolen items included a 1611 Geneva Bible, a 13th-century
Dutch missal, an ancient miniature Koran measuring 1in by 1in, and two
17th-century Dublin silver maces worth GBP.25,000 each. They were used by the
Queen to restore Armagh to its city status.

The librarian believes that the robbers were local. "They knew everything about
the library. When it would be at the emptiest, what exactly to take. That is
what is so terrible. It seems that they were prepared to plunder the heritage of
their own city."

Only 24 hours earlier Armagh had been the most heavily-policed spot in Ulster
when it provided the venue for the first session of the new North South
Ministerial Council, attended by all 15 members of Bertie Ahern's Cabinet and
ten out of 12 ministers from Stormont's new power-sharing executive.

The first edition of Gulliver's Travels had been acquired earlier this century
and because of the handwritten alterations, had pride of place in the library.
Archbishop Robert Eames, the Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland,
said he was heartbroken by the "devastating blow".


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