A farmer, a cyclist, and a stolen coat: West Cork springs into action to catch thief

It’s a story that mixes Flann O’Brien and Liam Neeson’s role in Taken — how a farmer harnessed the power of social media and the West Cork bush telegraph to get his stolen coat back from a cycling Dutchman, and all within 24 hours.

A farmer, a cyclist, and a stolen coat: West Cork springs into action to catch thief

Jolle Sietsma, a 44-year-old with an address at Filurskiweq, Bergen, in the Netherlands, pleaded guilty at Bandon District Court to stealing a coat last Tuesday night from a West Cork farmer in a Clonakilty bar —little knowing the lengths he would go to, to get it back.

The court heard that after taking the coat from O’Donovan’s Hotel in Clonakilty, CCTV footage was downloaded by staff showing the incident and Mr Sietsma, who had been cycling around West Cork with a friend, wearing the jacket. Yet that was only part of the story.

The farmer, who does not wish to be named, told the Irish Examiner that, between a social media post seeking assistance, help from others in Clonakilty, and texts and phonecalls across the West Cork hospitality sector, he tracked down the cycling Dutchman and his friend on Wednesday evening in the Snug Bar in Bantry.

Dena O’Donovan of O’Donovan’s Hotel said she quickly downloaded the CCTV footage on Tuesday night when the coat went missing. She also posted on her Facebook page seeking “two foreign gents”, one of whom was wearing a t-shirt with ‘world famous’ written on it.

The network went into overdrive, identifying the duo as Dutch and providing information on sightings of the pair biking around West Cork.

The farmer milked his cows early on Wednesday and hit the road.

“On the way over, I stopped off in Leap to do the Lotto and I met a guy I knew and asked him how long it would take a fella to cycle from Baltimore to Skibbereen,” he said, referring to one possible sighting.

Consulting a map, he worked out the possible rate of progress and likely route and then went to Lisheen, in case the men had taken a ferry to the islands, and then to Ballydehob.

“I knew they were on bikes,” he said. “I was of the opinion I could run after a push bike but not a motorbike.”

His wife, who is dealing with an illness, told him to try Bantry. Within minutes of arriving in the town he spotted the bikes outside the bar. The descriptions of the men said one was taller than the other. The man noticed “one seat was 10 inches higher than the other one”.

The Liverpool vs Roma Champions League semi-final was on the telly when the farmer went in, spotting his coat hanging on a wall, and the Dutchmen beside.

“The barman said to me ‘you’ve come in for the result’. ‘That’s right,’ I said.

“It’s amazing how things unfolded. I told the guards in Bantry it was not the value of the coat, it was that he took it from my wife’s invalid chair.”

Mr Sietsma’s solicitor, Plunkett Taaffe, told Judge Mary Dorgan that his client wanted to plead guilty. He said Sietsma’s clothes were drenched on Tuesday and he and his friend had sat in the pub and “he drank and drank and drank, and in the height of drink he took a coat. He went on his way in drunken stupidity.”

Insp Brian Murphy, prosecuting, said having been arrested in Bantry for handling stolen goods, Mr Sietsma had then admitted stealing the coat. He’d earlier claimed he’d bought it for a fiver in a charity shop.

The court was told Mr Sietsma had €250 and was prepared to make a contribution to the court poor box, with Mr Sietsma referring to it as “learning money”.

Judge Dorgan was less amused, saying: “I think it was a mean thing to do.”

Mr Taaffe said his client was “embarrassed and annoyed with himself”. Insp Murphy said gardaí had checked Mr Sietsma’s background via Interpol, which confirmed he had no previous convictions.

Judge Dorgan said “drink is no excuse and the weather is no excuse” and as well as directing the €250 contribution to the poor box she also bound Mr Sietsma to the peace for six months. The court was told he was leaving for home yesterday.

As for what the farmer did yesterday, he said: “I bought another coat.”

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