Bungling robbers demolished the front wall of a post office with a JCB and then fled with an empty safe.
The brazen thieves left a gaping hole in the front of the An Post building in Castlecomer, Co Kilkenny.
Gardai said that the robbers thought they had escaped with a safe full of money when, in fact, it was empty.
No alarm went off in the post office as the thieves appeared to have cut the phone lines.
The Mullins family who run the post office live behind the building, but were not woken by the Tuesday night break-in.
Gardai were unaware of the robbery until a prison officer noticed the massive hole in the wall of the premises at 6.20am when he was on his way to work.
Despite a carefully planned operation, which included stealing a digger in Hacketstown, Co Carlow, the thieves fled with the wrong safe.
A newer safe was visible from the road yesterday as officers from the Garda Scenes of Crime Unit searched for clues. The thieves apparently had made no attempt to take it.
Forensic experts examined the digger for fingerprints and the post office was closed for business.
A shocked Dick Mullins, who runs the small post office with his wife Anna May, inspected the damage. The family were relieved that no cash was stolen.
The post office is located in the middle of the small town, next to the Castlecomer Co-Op creamery.
Castlecomer has a garda station, but it is not manned 24 hours a day. Officers from Kilkenny city, 19km away, patrol the area when the station is closed.
Chief Supt Mick McGarry confirmed that there was nothing taken except a safe that "contained no cash".
Several local people expressed surprise that they had not heard any street noise in the middle of the night.
"It's some way to make a withdrawal," remarked one passerby.
Chief Supt McGarry said: "We are appealing for witnesses to come forward. If they have any information, we'd be very grateful if they'd contact the Garda Confidential Line on 1800 666 111."