By David Raleigh
Gardaí investigating the murder of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe, 22 years ago this month by an IRA gang, in Adare Co Limerick, have made a fresh appeal for information about two men they still want to question about the historic killing.
Detective McCabe was posthumously awarded the Freedom of Limerick at a ceremony in the city this evening, which was attended by his widow Ann, family, politicians, and high-ranking gardaí.
McCabe's colleague, Det Gda Ben O’Sullivan, who was seriously wounded in the same attack, was also made an Honourary Freeman of Limerick.
Despite suffering 11 gunshot wounds, O'Sullivan miraculously survived the gun attack on June 7, 1996, in the village of Adare.
Det Gda McCabe however, died instantly, after a bullet from an AK47 Kalashnikov assault rifle that was fired by one of the gang, severed his spine.
The two Special Branch gardaí were ambushed by an IRA group, during a botched robbery, as they escorted a mail and cash delivery van into the village.
Retired Detective Garda Ben O’Sullivan broke down a number of times as he laid bare in chilling detail the moment the IRA gang rammed into the back of their patrol car and opened fire from a military-style machine gun.
Speaking prior to receiving the Freedom of Limerick, he said: “I never lost consciousness through it. I remember every aspect of it.”
“I saw them in the car mirror before the ramming and I shouted at Jerry. They rammed straight into the boot of (the patrol car), and from that I broke my right arm, the ramming.”
“They jumped out, wearing balaclavas, and went a few yards (standing) at the ten past two angle, and fired 15 bullets into the car from an AK47.”
“I put my fingers on his wrist and there was no pulse.”
“That was only three minutes after the shooting…He died instantly.”
“I think about him every day. It's engraved on my brain, but it's not holding me back.”
Later on, speaking at the ceremony, O’Sullivan who also holds the distinction of been awarded two Scott medals for bravery, said he would “cherish” the honour “until the day I die”.
Becoming overwhelmed with emotion, he said: “However I feel humbled…I was lucky to escape alive. People said at the time I was invincible - that is totally inaccurate. If I was (shot) where Jerry was struck I would be where Jerry is.”
The IRA gang, Kevin Walsh and Michael O’Neill, from Patrickswell, Co Limerick; Jeremiah Sheehy of Rathkeale, Co Limerick; and Pearse McAuley, from Strabane, Co Tyrone, were all convicted of Det McCabe’s manslaughter and have since been released.
However, in a fresh call for information, Superintendent Derek Smart, Henry Street garda station, said gardaí are still looking to question them about the murder.
“Those two people are still outstanding and we want to interview them," Supt Smart said.
"We are continuing to pursue people who may have been involved, and that will keep going until we bring them to justice.”
He also appealed for “anybody who has information” regarding the whereabouts of the two men, to “call the Garda Confidential line (1800-666-111) or any garda station”.
Despite a number of media reports over the years suggesting one of the men was living in Spain and the other in South America, gardaí said today, they do not know their present locations.
Calling for a renewed efforts by gardaí to find the suspects, local Fianna Fáil TD and Spokesperson on Justice, Niall Collins, said, perhaps the garda cold case unit, which investigates historic murders, could be drafted in to help find the men.
"An Garda Siochana have a cold case unit, and they have been involved in investigating a number of murders around Limerick recently. Maybe, gardaí should utilise that mechanism," Deputy Collins said.
“If there are still persons of interest in the murder of Jerry McCabe, then gardaí have the mechanisms, through their cold case unit, to pursue them, and they should do that,” he added.
Ann McCabe, speaking this evening, backed Deputy Collins remarks.
“I would absolutely concur with that. I'd be fully up for that. They should be brought back (for questioning).”
Ms McCabe said her husband’s killers “are no longer part of my life now", adding, "it's up to gardaí to progress it as far as they can.”
Ms McCabe thanked Mayor of Limerick, Stephen Keary, for awarding her late husband with the Freedom of the city:
“It still doesn't go away and its still fresh in our memories. I also want to thank the people of Limerick for their continued support through the years."
The State's acceptance of manslaughter charges, and not murder, as well as calls by Sinn Fein later on fort the killers to be released as political prisoners under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement continues to cause huge unrest locally.
Local Fine Gael TD, Patrick O’Donovan, said: "Jerry McCabe was murdered in my opinion".
O'Donovan has confidence in the commitment of gardaí to bring all involved to justice: "The gardaí have never let the case go and I believe that they are as committed to it today as they ever were.”
Ann McCabe, who accepted the Freedom of Limerick on behalf of her heroic late husband said: “Jerry and Ben were ambushed by six criminals” on the fateful morning.
“These were men who set out to rob and to kill to show how much they cared for Ireland and its people - they claimed to be patriots.”
She said the garda patrol car in which her husband was sitting was “raked by a blitz of high-velocity bullets”.
Ms McCabe said she and her family had been devastated by the “emotional trauma” of it all…"eating and sleeping disturbances, low energy, depression, spontaneous crying, despair and hopelessness, anxiety, irritability, anger and resentment, emotional numbness.”
They also “withdrew from normal routines, had decreased ability to concentrate” and experience “sudden floods of emotions related to that awful murder”.
Ann McCabe said her husband “died for Ireland - it was not his choice”.
Dedicating the unknown authored “A Part of Ireland Died”, which recalls the death of a garda who “answered the call, of himself gave his all”.
Former Detective Garda and outgoing Mayor of the Metropolitan District of Limerick Sean Lynch, who worked alongside McCabe and O’Sullivan said: “It’s good to keep their memories alive. Its not easy for any us (especially) Ben, and both his and the McCabe families, and their colleagues as well.
“It could have been any of us.
“The community valued these members. They are people of distinction. It’s the highest honour Limerick can bestow on them and they are worthy of it.
“It’s symbolic of the esteem that Limerick holds for them.”