The inflatable Defence Forces dinghy was stolen from a farmhouse in Springfield, Clonlara, about 8pm on Sunday night.
The men were eventually cut off by two locals in another boat, as the thieves crossed a flooded field on their way towards unoccupied homes left vacant by families evacuated from the area. The two would-be robbers escaped and the boat was returned to the army.
“They were on their way over to houses which were evacuated by families forced out by the flood,” said a local source.
“They said they were trying to get to Castleconnell but that’s nowhere near here.”
A Garda source said: “They saw rich pickings in those houses. It’s the lowest of the low.”
A local woman said: “Imagine stealing a boat down here during the worst flood ever. That boat could be the difference between someone’s life being saved in these treacherous waters. The fella who came across them told them to get the hell out of here or they’d be seeing bubbles.”
Gardaí at Ardnacrusha are investigating.
Meanwhile, a Co Clare man has told how he had to tell his grandmother he could not save her house from the floods.
Sitting in a boat in a flooded field, Jason Quinlivan described how he could only watch as floodwaters swallowed his 86-year old grandmother’s house.
The 28-year-old plasterer from Springfield, Clonlara, found himself alone in the dark, waist deep in water, and left with the choice of either protecting his grandmother’s house or his uncle’s home from the deluge.
“I had to let one house go. It was an awful call to make. I had to make an executive decision. It was 3am,” he said.
Jason’s exhausted father, Joe, 62, who accompanied his son in their boat on their way to begin another day of gruelling efforts to try to keep the floodwater out of their home, said: “It’s a scar that will never leave him.”
Jason told his grandmother, Nora Mason, who in recent years was moved from her house to a nursing home: “I wasn’t able to mind your house.”
He said: “She got very upset. She was bawling crying when I told her. She understood.”