Three men are in custody as part of a major police investigation into an alleged sex attack on two young girls.
It is understood the girls, who are aged under 10, were lured away from a children's birthday party and subjected to a serious sexual assault in Athlone yesterday.
While the party, in an Athlone housing estate, was under way, the girls were playing outside and are believed to have been enticed to a nearby house by a man who was not attending the celebration.
Sources described the alleged attack as "very serious".
The girls were taken to hospital in Galway for medical treatment.
It is believed they managed to flee from their attackers by climbing out of a window. The girls ran back to the house where the party was taking place and raised the alarm.
"They were at the birthday party when they became dislodged from their friends and this allegation happened during a very short interregnum of a small amount of time," said a source.
Two of the men are aged in their 40s and the third in his 30s. They were arrested for public order offences and brought to Athlone Garda station yesterday.
This morning they appeared before a special sitting of Athlone District Court where they were remanded in custody.
All three were later re-arrested as part of the investigation into the alleged sexual assault and taken back to Athlone Garda station.
In a statement Gardai said: " Three males are in custody in Athlone Garda station as part of an investigation into an alleged serious sexual assault on two female children at approximately 4pm on September 28 in the Athlone area."
The men have been detained under Section 4 of the Criminal Justice Act 1984.
Investigations are continuing.
He said: "It frightens people to think that this sort of thing could happen in their community. My thoughts and prayers are with the parents of the two young girls.
"The news has sent shock waves throughout Athlone. It is frightening to think that children's innocence could be shattered in such a horrific way."