Ben O’Sullivan a most dedicated crime fighter, funeral told

Love for family and outdoors helped him cope after Adare shooting, says priest

The late detective garda Ben O'Sullivan, who survived an IRA gun attack in Adare, Co Limerick, in which his colleague detective garda Jerry McCabe was killed, was one of the most "dedicated" crime fighters and protectors of the peace the country had ever seen, his funeral Mass has been told.

Chief celebrant Fr Noel Kirwan said being a garda “wasn’t just a job for him, it was a love for him . . . to be with those people that he recognised as brothers and sisters with him in the fight for justice and truth and peace.”

Mr O’Sullivan (78), died last Friday, surrounded by his family in Milford Hospice, Limerick, following a short illness.

During his career the native of Mallow, Co Cork, was twice decorated with medals for bravery. He was awarded Scott medals for bravery – the first in 1994 after disarming a gunman in Limerick city in 1992; the second in 2000 after he survived the IRA shooting in 1996 and later testified against the men who carried out the atrocity.

Fr Kirwan, assisted at the funeral Mass by family friend Fr Donal McNamara, Garda chaplain Fr Joe Kennedy, Fr Derek Leonard, and Fr Seán Harmon, chaplain at University Hospital Limerick, said Mr O’Sullivan’s enduring “love for his family and nature” had helped him through dark days following the fatal shooting in Adare, on June 7th, 1996.

Gunshot wounds

Mr O’Sullivan sustained 11 gunshot wounds when an IRA gang opened fire with machine guns, firing 15 rounds into his unmarked patrol car that had been escorting a cash mail van. His close friend and colleague, Det Garda McCabe, who was sitting next to him in the patrol car, was killed instantly in the attack.

Fr Kirwan said, while the State had recognised the two detectives’ bravery, the Scott medals awarded them also served as a poignant reminder “that there is a price to pay always, for the gardaí themselves; for their families; for their colleagues”.

Mr O’Sullivan’s faith, his love for the outdoors, and farming, also helped him cope “in the midst of that pain and struggle”, he said.

The “joy and fun” of playing practical jokes on his grandchildren, who in turn would repay the favour, had also “helped sustain him in those dark days”.

“Embracing that love” kept the courageous officer going throughout his recovery from his injuries; throughout the time that followed when the State accepted the IRA gang’s pleas to manslaughter of Det Garda McCabe during their trial for capital murder and attempted murder; and when Sinn Féin called for the killers to be released early under the Belfast Agreement.

Hundreds attended the funeral mass at St Mary's Church, Athlunkard Street, in Limerick City, including aides de camp to President Michael D Higgins and Taoiseach Micheál Martin.

Guard of honour

Jerry McCabe’s widow, Ann, and family members also attended. Members of the Limerick Garda Division later performed a guard of honour outside the city’s Garda headquarters on Henry Street, as the funeral cortege paused outside for a minute’s silence.

Addressing the congregation, Mr O’Sullivan’s daughter Evelyn thanked the doctors and nurses who had cared for her father in his final days: “The expert care given, and the kindness shown to Dad made very difficult days a little easier to bear, míle buíochas.”

A lone Garda bugler performed the last post as Mr O'Sullivan was buried at Kilcornan Cemetery.

Mr O’Sullivan is survived by his wife Anne; daughters Marianne, Evelyn and Aoife; and son John.

Members of the IRA gang – Kevin Walsh and Michael O’Neill, from Patrickswell; Jeremiah Sheehy, from Rathkeale; and Pearse McAuley, from Strabane, Co Tyrone – were all convicted of Det Garda McCabe’s manslaughter but have since being released.