Tributes as 'hero' Garda Ben O’Sullivan, who survived being shot 11 times by IRA, dies

Tributes As 'Hero' Garda Ben O’sullivan, Who Survived Being Shot 11 Times By Ira, Dies
O'Sullivan was seriously wounded in the attack which claimed the life of his colleague, Detective Garda Jerry McCabe, 26 years ago. Photo: Liam Burke/Press 22
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David Raleigh

Tributes have been paid to retired Detective Garda Ben O’Sullivan who died this morning, 26 years after he survived being seriously wounded in an IRA gun attack which claimed the life of his colleague Detective Garda Jerry McCabe.

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


A native of Mournabbey, 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 June 7th, 1996.

A 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 shooting, however, their guilty pleas to manslaughter during their murder trial, which were accepted by the State, were criticised by the garda’s families, rank and file members of the force, and the wider public.

Bravery awards

The two detectives were later awarded the Scott Gold Medal, Mr 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.

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

Minister for Justice Helen McEntee today said Mr O’Sullivan “represented the very best of [An Garda Síochána’s] values, service and bravery.”

“Twice awarded a Gold Scott medal, Ben served his country with great courage and valour, selflessly taking on the burden of protecting all of us from danger. We thank him for his unstinting service and we mourn his passing.”

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris said the force had learned of the death of its “friend and former colleague” with great sadness, and extended his condolences to Mr O’Sullivan’s family.


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”.

He was a terrific man; he took 11 bullets into his body and lived

“He was an inspiration to us all, and he went through a very hard time having been seriously injured (in Adare) and he made a great recovery. He was a double Scott Medal recipient, so he was a very, very brave man.”

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


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.”


Pat Kearney, a brother-in-law of the late Detective Garda McCabe, said of Mr O'Sullivan: “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 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 said “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 have celebrated the 50th anniversary of their joining the Garda Special Branch in Limerick.

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

If you were afraid of danger, you would have stayed in bed

“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 Féin 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.

“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.

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

Funeral arrangements

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 in Limerick City on Sunday 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 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.

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