A Hilltown farmer who had 24 sheep stolen on Christmas morning has spoken of his relief after 20 of the ewes were mysteriously returned two days later.
Paul Magowan had mounted a vigorous Facebook campaign in an effort to make the 23 Lleyn in-lamb ewes and a Lleyn ram “too hot to handle” after they were taken from his fields at Tamary Hill Road, on the outskirts of Rathfriland.
They were all quite distinctive due to the three blue marks on the back of the head, one on the middle of the back and one on the middle of the rump.
And it seems his efforts paid off.
Twenty of the sheep have since been returned.
They were found wandering on the road on Tuesday morning.
Paul said he was overwhelmed by the response to his Facebook campaign after receiving messages of support from right across the UK and the Republic of Ireland.
He believes his Facebook campaign, plus the fact meat plants were closed over the Christmas period, made the sheep too hard to move on or hide.
He said he wished he could meet Chief Constable George Hamilton to raise his concerns that not enough is being done to tackle crime in rural areas.
He checked the 40 sheep on Christmas Eve, and then the thieves struck in the early hours of Christmas morning.
“When I went to check them I could see they looked hunted, very disturbed and there were only 16 left. One was in a drain and there were three others on neighbouring ground,” he said.
“I have two small children, young boys aged four and six, and I didn’t get to spend Christmas with them at all because of the meanness of someone.
“It did put a dampener on things.”
Paul said a Facebook friend had predicted that “God would restore his inheritance”, and due to his strong faith in God he was confident the sheep would be found.
He thanked all those who sent him messages of support.
“The social media thing really helped,” he added.
“There was a lot of sharing and I received messages of support from all over the United Kingdom and Ireland.
“I suppose because it was Christmas there was a good spirit and I can’t thank people enough.”
Paul believes there is a gang operating in the area, as there have been a number of thefts of sheep in recent months around Rathfriland, Poyntzpass and south Armagh.
He added: “I would love to have a meeting with the chief constable because I believe there is not enough being done for the rural farming families in Northern Ireland. Where is this going to end?
“We are doing all we can to protect our livelihoods but there is no response.
“It seems to be that when a crime occurs, a crime number is handed out for insurance purposes but that doesn’t solve the problem. We need men on the ground.”