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Retired Det Gda Ben O’Sullivan who has died. Liam Burke/Press 22

Detective Garda Ben O’Sullivan, who was shot in 1996 IRA armed robbery, dies aged 78

O’Sullivan survived the shooting which claimed the life of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe.

TRIBUTES HAVE BEEN paid to heroic retired Detective Garda Ben O’Sullivan who passed away this morning, 26 years after he survived being seriously wounded in an IRA gun attack which also claimed the life of his colleague, Detective Garda Jerry McCabe. 

Mr O’Sullivan, (78), passed away surrounded by his family in the early hours of Friday, at Milford Hospice, Co Limerick, following a short illness. 

A native of Mourneabbey, Mallow, Co Cork, but living in Corbally, Limerick, Mr O’Sullivan had miraculously survived being shot 11 times during the IRA gun attack on Main Street Adare, on 7 June, 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. 

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. 

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. 

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.” 

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.” 

Head of the Limerick Garda Division, Chief Superintendent Gerry Roche, said Mr O’Sullivan was “a true hero” who had served in the force “with distinction”.  

“We extended our sympathies to his wife Anne and his son and three daughters at this time,” Chief Roche added.

Minister for Justice Helen McEntee said she was saddened to hear about Mr O’Sullivan’s death on this centenary year of An Garda Síochána and that he “represented the very best of its values, service and bravery”.

“The horrific attack on Ben and his partner, the late Detective Garda Jerry McCabe, on 7 June 1996 was one of the most sickening attacks on Garda members in the history of the State,” she said. 

A book of condolences has been opened at Henry Street Garda Station, Limerick city, and the tricolour at the Limerick Garda Headquarters is flying at half mast as mark of respect.

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris said it was with great sadness that he learned of O’Sullivan’s death. 

He noted that his two Gold Scott Medals are the highest awards possible in An Garda Síochána for courage and bravery.

“Today we also remember our late colleague Jerry Mc Cabe who accompanied Ben on that fateful day in 1996.

“On behalf of An Garda Síochána, I wish to extend my deepest condolences to Detective Garda O’Sullivan’s wife Anne, their four children, John, Marianne, Evelyn and Aoife, and their extended family and friends.

“Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.”

Survived by his wife Anne, son John, and daughters Marianne, Evelyn and Aoife, Mr O’Sullivan’s remains will lie in repose at Griffin’s Funeral Home, John’s Gate, Limerick City, on Sunday, 27th February, from 6pm to 7:30pm.

His funeral cortège will travel via his family home, arriving at St Mary’s Church, Athlunkard Street, Limerick, on Monday, 28th February, for Requiem Mass at 1pm followed by private burial afterwards in Kilcornan Cemetery, West Limerick.

“Family flowers only please; donations, if desired, to Milford Care Centre,” read the obituary posted online.

Tributes to Mr O’Sullivan also poured in from political leaders, including the Taoiseach, Micheal Martin; the Minister for Justice Helen McEntee; and the Mayor of Limerick Daniel Butler.

Limerick Garda and President of the Garda Representative Association (GRA), Frank Thornton, also paid tribute: “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 (GRA) membership and his death is being felt by all of us at this sad time.”

With reporting by David Raleigh and Eoghan Dalton

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