Tributes following death of hero Limerick Detective Ben O’Sullivan

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The late Ben O'Sullivan with his Scott Gold Medals for bravery

TRIBUTES have been paid to heroic retired Detective Garda Ben O’Sullivan who passed away this morning, 26 years after he survived serious injury in an IRA gun attack which claimed the life of his colleague, Detective Garda Jerry McCabe.

Twice awarded the Scott Gold Medal for bravery, Mr O’Sullivan (78) passed away surrounded by his family in the early hours of Friday at Milford Hospice following a short illness.

A native of Mourneabbey, Mallow, Co Cork, living in Corbally, Limerick, Mr O’Sullivan had miraculously survived being shot 11 times during the IRA gun attack 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 Garda families, rank and file members of the force, and the wider public.

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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 in Limerick city.

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 eleven bullets into his body and lived.”

Speaking last July, on 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,” he said at the time.

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

The late Ben O’Sullivan with Anne McCabe, widow of murdered Detective Garda Jerry McCabe.

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 him 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. 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.”

Funeral arrangements have yet to be announced.

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