It was 6.55am, June 7, 1996, when Detective Garda Jerry McCabe and Detective Garda Ben O’Sullivan were targeted by an IRA gang as both officers provided an armed escort for a mail delivery van.
Det McCabe was killed instantly when a bullet from an AK47 machine gun severed his spine as he sat in their Ford Garda car. His partner, Det O’Sullivan, was shot 11 times, but miraculously survived.
At 6.55am yesterday, at a moving commemoration ceremony marking the 20th anniversary of her husband’s death, Ann McCabe, with her daughter Stacy, laid flowers outside Adare Garda Station, just yards from the location where Det McCabe was murdered in a hail of automatic gunfire.
Members of the force performed a guard of honour and members of the Garda Band struck up the hymn ‘Abide With Me’, which was sung at Det McCabe’s funeral Mass.
Chief Supt David Sheahan, who also laid a wreath, led senior members of the Limerick Garda Division, including Supt Derek Smart, Supt Tom O’Connor, and Det Supt Jim Ryan, in a minute’s silence at 6.55am.
“For me, today is the same as 20 years ago June 7th,” said Mrs McCabe after the ceremony.
“Nothing ever changes,” she said, pausing in thought, adding, “but you learn to live with it and get on with it”.
Speaking publicly for the first time since the killing, Anne O’Sullivan, wife of retired Det Ben O’Sullivan said: “I found it very hard today. It brought back every hour of this time 20 years ago. It brought tears.”
Ms O’Sullivan, who at the time worked as a nurse in the accident and emergency department at Limerick Regional Hospital, said: “I was off work that day and I got a phone call from a colleague of mine, she said ‘I’ve bad news for you’.
“I just got up from bed and went straight out to the hospital, and then I heard all the bad news, that Jerry had passed away and Ben was in resus. You can imagine it was crazy... It was horrendous.
“You have to move on, but those days come back too. They have their own space and time.”
The two women have been a constant support to one another. They promised that support would continue until their own final days.
Det McCabe’s daughter, Stacy, wept as she paid tribute to her late father, beneath a plaque in memory of him.
“In the midst of sadness, we pray for thanksgiving for the inspiration and example we received in and through dad,” she said. “We pray in thanksgiving for the love, light, and laughter he brought to our lives.”
An emotional Ben O’Sullivan said: “This morning’s ceremony has brought me to my knees really.”
The attack on him and his colleague, he said, was still crystal clear in his head.
“You’re never expected to forget something like that. You’re not supposed to forget that. You’re supposed to take up the gauntlet and accept that it happened; you cannot turn the clock backwards.
“Jerry and myself joined the detective branch in 1973, on the same day, and, for the length of time we served in the Garda Síochána after that, I could safely say that there was scarcely a day we were separated because we worked as a team.
“Wherever you saw Jerry you saw me. Regrettably, today you see me without Jerry.”
In another ceremony in Ballybunion, where Det McCabe spent his early childhood, US artist Mario Perez, raked a special design on the main beach as a mark of respect, and on Sunday, a special plaque will be unveiled in Ballylongford where the McCabe family moved in later years.
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