Twenty years ago today Garda Jerry McCabe was shot dead by the Provisional IRA in Adare during an attempted robbery. His widow, Ann, spoke to Mid-West Correspondent Jimmy Woulfe
IT IS 7.50am, June 7, 1996, Avondale Drive, Greystones estate, Limerick. Ann McCabe is busy in her kitchen. Her husband, Jerry, has left the house for Henry Street Garda station, to go on escort duty at 6am with his Special Branch colleague, Ben O’Sullivan.
Ann is getting breakfast for their daughter, Stacy, and for one of their four sons, Ross.
Stacy is doing her Leaving Cert exams at the Salesians, and Ross is sitting his Junior cert at Ard Scoil Ris.
The oldest child, John, a garda, is serving in Monaghan and the two other boys, Mark and Ian, have gone to their summer jobs.
The doorbell rings.
Ann has recalled the devastating minutes that followed: “I was calling Stacy and Ross to get up, it was time to get ready for school. I opened the door. A man I did not know at that time was standing there.
“It was John Kerin, a detective inspector and now chief superintendent in Clare. There was a female garda with him, but I did not notice her, as she was standing near the front gate. I just saw John Kerin’s face. It was the colour of the wall.
“I hadn’t a clue what was happening. I had got a phone call from a friend, Chris O’Neill, a very good friend of Jerry’s, shortly before that, to say that there was somebody injured in an accident in Adare and heard it on the radio.
“I rang Henry Street and couldn’t get through. And then the door bell rang. He [John Kerin] looked so white. He asked me if I was Ann McCabe. Then, he came in and it all unfolded, what had happened.
“Stacy and Ross had come down stairs and we were all crying. Ian and Mark had got the news and they all turned up. Brian Carroll [later deputy editor of the Irish Examiner] was with Ian.
“The two of them were great friends from the time they started school. A load of more friends then came.
“The garda with John Kerin was Deirdre O’Loughlin. The two of them were so good, the way they dealt with what must have been a terrible situation for them. Deirdre was one of the liaison gardaí sent to remain with us. She was great and has remained a great friend to this day, and calls regularly.”
Ann’s first reaction was to see her husband.
“I wanted to see Jerry straight away, on getting the news that he had died, but that wasn’t to be. We weren’t allowed go near the hospital. We saw him when he was laid out at Thompsons’ funeral home.
“I did not know, when Jerry left that morning, where he would be going with Ben. They weren’t told which escort route they would be going, until they got to Henry Street.
“On the day of Jerry’s funeral, we were in Shannon rugby club, after leaving the cemetery. Brendan Grace, who was a great friend of Jerry and Ben, said to me he wanted to go and see Ben at the Regional Hospital.
“I went with him. I think Keith Lancaster, Jerry’s best friend, also came with us to see Ben. Keith went to Rockwell with Jerry. When we went into the room where Ben was, there were warning signs not to touch Ben, due to his horrific injuries [he had received 11 bullet wounds from an AK 47].
“We talked to him. It was a miracle he was alive. He was brought to Belfast for specialist treatment and I didn’t see him again until he came home to Limerick and I went to visit him.
“Ben still calls and he always brings fresh eggs from the farm with him. If I’m not home, he’ll leave the eggs in a bag, hanging from the front door.”
One of the early visitors to sympathise with her at the house was US ambassador, Jean Kennedy Smith.
“She gave me rosary beads, which belonged to her mother,” says Ann.
“After the funeral, Stacy wanted to go back and complete her Leaving Cert. She was the apple of Jerry’s eye, his only daughter.
“He adored her and she wanted to complete her Leaving Cert for him and was very determined. She had missed two exams, due to the funeral, but she later did these. It wasn’t so important for Ross, being the Junior Cert.”
Ann met Jerry at a dance in the old Cruises Hotel. After a year-long courtship, they were married in Janesboro church in 1967.
She was an Aer Lingus ground hostess in Shannon.
Ann’s father, Bill Cunniffe, was also a garda.
Asked if she ever thought of remarrying, Ann said: “No. Never. That will never happen. We were madly in love and that love is still there.”
She recalled that her father also died in tragic circumstances. On his retirement, he did security work for CIÉ.
“He was assaulted by a troubled man in Colbert Station and fell and banged his head. He died six weeks later from his injuries,” she said.
Ann said Jerry’s father, Johnny, never recovered from his son’s death.
He ran businesses in Ballylongford and Ballybunion, and, on retiring, came to live with one of his daughters in Limerick.
“For two months after Jerry’s death, he would stand across the road, but couldn’t bring himself to come into the house, with the memories it held for him.”
As we talked in the conservatory overlooking the garden at Avondale Drive, Ann recalled that Jerry had built the glass addition to the house.
“He was just putting the finishing touches to it and didn’t live to enjoy it,” she said.
Numerous framed photos recall the many happy days at Avondale Drive.
Ann said: “We have one video. It was of Jerry’s 50th birthday, which he organised here in the house himself. He was taking no chances in allowing anybody else organise what he wanted — a good party.”
Last weekend, the family attended an anniversary mass for Jerry at the Holy Rosary Church, Ennis Road.
Stacy, 36, works as a pharmacy technician in Limerick and lives with Ann; John, 46, is a Garda sergeant based in Shannon; Ian, 43, works in the financial sector in Dublin; Mark, 45, is a technician with an Irish company; and Ross, 35 is a garda stationed in Gurranabraher, Cork.
June 7, 2016. Ann McCabe, today, will make a quiet, private visit, alone, to Jerry’s grave, at Mount St Oliver cemetery.
And she will talk to him about the six grandchildren they are blessed with.
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