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passed away Tributes paid to heroic garda shot 11 times in IRA gun attack that killed Jerry McCabe

'Ben was a friend to everyone, he was as honest and direct a man as you could meet, he helped anyone in any way he could'

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The late Garda Ben O'Sullivan outside the Garda Station in Adare, Co Limerick.  Photo: Brian Gavin/Press 22

The late Garda Ben O'Sullivan outside the Garda Station in Adare, Co Limerick. Photo: Brian Gavin/Press 22

The late Garda Ben O'Sullivan outside the Garda Station in Adare, Co Limerick. Photo: Brian Gavin/Press 22

The heroic retired Detective Garda Ben O’Sullivan who survived the IRA gun attack that claimed the life of his colleague, Jerry McCabe, has been remembered as an “inspiring, resilient and courageous figure”. 

Tributes have been paid to Mr O’Sullivan (78) who passed away this morning, 26 years after he was badly injured when he was shot 11 times during in the incident on Main Street, Adare, on June 7, 1996.

The gang, armed with AK47 machine guns, opened fire on the two detectives as they sat in their patrol car while escorting a post office van that was delivering cash and mail in the village.

Four men were jailed for their roles in the atrocity, however their guilty pleas to manslaughter during their murder trial, which were accepted by the State, were met with revulsion by the garda’s families, rank and file members of the force, and the wider public.

The two detectives were later awarded the Scott Gold Medal, McCabe posthumously, and they were also both honoured with the Freedom of Limerick in 2018 for their bravery and work on the frontline.

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Detective Garda Jerry McCabe’s widow Ann with retired garda Ben O’Sullivan at the unveiling of the plaque in Ballylongford. Photo: Domnick Walsh

Detective Garda Jerry McCabe’s widow Ann with retired garda Ben O’Sullivan at the unveiling of the plaque in Ballylongford. Photo: Domnick Walsh

Detective Garda Jerry McCabe’s widow Ann with retired garda Ben O’Sullivan at the unveiling of the plaque in Ballylongford. Photo: Domnick Walsh

Mr O’Sullivan was also awarded a Scott Gold Medal in 1994 after he disarmed a gunman who was on the loose in Limerick city.

A native of Mournabbey, Mallow, Co Cork, but living in Corbally, Limerick, Mr O’Sullivan passed away surrounded by his family in the early hours of Friday, at Milford Hospice, Co Limerick, following a short illness.

Paying tribute to Mr O’Sullivan, Pat Kearney, a brother-in-law of the late Detective Garda McCabe, said: “Ben was a mighty character, a mighty strong man, physically, mentally, spiritually, he was a terrific man; he took 11 bullets into his body and lived.”

Speaking to this reporter last July following the 25th anniversary of the IRA attack in Adare, Mr O’Sullivan opened up about the trauma he had suffered.

“My reluctance to give interviews is because I was waking up at night saturated with perspiration, for a couple of years after what happened in Adare.”

The father of four said he had found solace and peace in a farm he purchased afterwards, which he offered, “helped deprive me of pondering on my past and allowing me to live my future, it’s distracting me from my past”.

The two garda colleagues who were also “best friends” would this year celebrated the 50th anniversary of their joining the Garda Special Branch in Limerick.

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They both also protected the late Dessie O’Malley, who passed away last year, when he was Minister for Justice in the 1970s and when he faced a credible threat from the Provisional IRA.

“I was with (Minister O’Malley) during the ‘dangerous times’, and maybe we didn't realise it at the time that it was as dangerous as it was, because if you were afraid of danger, you would have stayed in bed,” said Mr O’Sullivan.

Pat Kearney said Mr O’Sullivan was a “one-off hero” who remained “dignified” all throughout the controversy surrounding the IRA killers manslaughter pleas, as well as calls by Sinn Fein for the early release of Detective McCabe’s killers under the Good Friday Agreement.

“It is sad he has passed away, a man who went through so much and survived it all and he was left with a lot of pain, but he never gave into it,” said Mr Kearney.

“They don't make many Ben O’Sullivans.”

Recalling the immediate aftermath of the Adare attack, he said: “Ben was rushed from the Limerick Regional Hospital by helicopter to Belfast because the Regional had no experience of gunshot wounds, whereas Belfast was up to their eyes in it, and he got great treatment up in Belfast.

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The scene of the shooting of Detective Gardaí Jerry McCabe and Ben O'Sullivan, in Adare, Co Limerick, in June 1996 Photo: Liam Burke, Press 22

The scene of the shooting of Detective Gardaí Jerry McCabe and Ben O'Sullivan, in Adare, Co Limerick, in June 1996 Photo: Liam Burke, Press 22

The scene of the shooting of Detective Gardaí Jerry McCabe and Ben O'Sullivan, in Adare, Co Limerick, in June 1996 Photo: Liam Burke, Press 22

“Ben was a friend to everyone, he was as honest and direct a man as you could meet, he helped anyone in any way he could. He was great company, had endless stories, yarns, and jokes.

“He was great company, a hard worker and he appreciated working, and the little bit of land was a great distraction, it was his hideaway. I suppose it was his place of rest and mental contentment where he could potter around the land and be away from everyone - and he had a great habit, he would never answer the phone.

“He had great dignity, great stature, and he gave every man a fair break.”

Frank Thornton, GRA President & Limerick Divisional Representative added: “When our members speak the name of Detective Garda Ben O’Sullivan it is with great affection, respect and admiration.

“He will forever be remembered as an inspiring, resilient and courageous figure among the membership and his death is being felt by all of us at this sad time.

“Ben began his garda career in 1964 and was present at one of the very darkest days of our organisation but his heroic actions in the line of duty on that day will remain an inspiration for all who he served alongside and had the pleasure of knowing him.

“A Scott Medal recipient, a revered colleague and most of all, a true gentleman.

“On behalf he Garda Representative Association I would like to extend our sincere condolences to Ben’s wife Ann, son John, daughters Evelyn, Marianne and Aoife and all his family and friends who loved him. He will be sadly missed and be forever spoken of within Garda ranks.”

Funeral arrangements have yet to be announced.

Mr O’Sullivan is survived by his wife Anne, a retired nurse, and his three daughters and son.

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