“It seems only like yesterday, I swear to God. I will never forget it, but I have learned to live with it and live without it and move on with my life.”
The words of retired Detective Garda Ben O’Sullivan as he recalled the horrific IRA gun attack in Adare on June 7, 1996.
It claimed the life of his Special Branch colleague, Jerry McCabe, who was aged 52, and left him with life-altering wounds.
Ben will return to the scene at Main Street, Adare today with his wife Ann and daughter Evelyn Quin, where the Minister for Justice Heather Humphreys and Garda chiefs will lead a commemoration ceremony to mark the 25th anniversary of the attack which outraged Ireland.
In an exclusive interview given at his home in Limerick, the native of Mourneabbey, Co Cork recalled the last moments with his friend and colleague, Jerry McCabe.
He said he has no feelings regarding those in the IRA killer gang and has worked on keeping himself focused on life after Adare, and the times he has had with Ann and their family — which now includes five grandchildren.
Now aged 77, he said he will never forget the attack, but has moved on, adding: “If you start feeling sympathy for yourself you are on a loser.”
On a bright summer morning, the two detectives were deployed to escort a postal lorry carrying pension money to post offices in West Limerick and set off at 6.50am.
As the lorry driven by Willie Jackson pulled up outside Adare Post office on the main street, Ben O’Sullivan brought the unmarked patrol car to a stop a short distance behind the lorry. Jerry McCabe was in the front passenger seat.
Without warning, a Pajero SUV sped up behind the parked Garda car and rammed it from behind.
He said: “One gunman wearing a balaclava and carrying an AK47 Kalashikov jumped out from the footpath in front of us.
“I was in the driver seat and Jerry was sitting beside me. The gunman stood about two yards in front of our car in the 10 past two position and opened up and all I remember was saying ‘Oh Jesus, Jerry’.
“They were the last words I had to Jerry, and Jerry had no reply.
“I didn’t realise it at the time, but my right arm was broken above the elbow by the ramming just before the shooting.
“We had no chance in the wide earthly world. I was hit and still conscious and I held Jerry’s hand and could feel no pulse.
“There were 15 shots fired, the investigation found. I was hit 11 times and Jerry was hit three times. One bullet was found lodged in the pillar of the car after it was brought to Dublin for forensic examination.
“I knew Jerry was gone. I remember, a local shop owner, Mossie O’Riordan came over to the car and he was carrying a blanket and a pillow.
“There was an ambulance in the area at the time so the ambulance came fairly quickly. I was brought to the Regional Hospital where my wife, Ann was a nurse at the hospital, She wasn’t on duty when I was brought there, but she was called in.”
While the two detectives were armed with Uzi sub machine-guns, neither was holding a gun in a ‘ready to fire’ position when the IRA gang struck.
After initial life saving treatment in Limerick and Cork, Ben was transferred to Belfast.
“They had extensive expertise in treating bullet injuries due to the Troubles and I think my upper body strength saved me. I did a lot of rowing and tug-of-war.”
To this day, he still carries the legacy of the bullet which hit him.
“There is still shrapnel fragments lodged in my skull and if I go through a security metal detector, the shrapnel can trigger the alarm system,” he said.
But Ben said he has made a decision to move on with his life.
“I have no feelings towards those involved, none whatever. I never forget, but I decided to work on that part of my life that was left after what happened in Adare and to live life with my family which now includes five grandchildren.
“I never forget, but I work on that part of my life that is left. I have no feeling towards them (IRA gang) whatsoever, because I can’t change what happened. None whatever, because I want to spend the part of my life that was left after that day.
“I work on the part of my life that is left to me. The day you start having sympathy for yourself you are on a loser. I still live happily in the same house in Old Park Road since we got married.
“I have a bit of land and I go out there every day and keep myself busy. I have five grandchildren. On Monday I will go to Adare, because I was there 25 years ago with Jerry when he died and I will be there in solidarity with the McCabe family.”
Ben O’Sullivan joined An Garda Siochana in 1964.
He recalled: “Myself and Jerry became Special Branch detectives the same day, November, 21, 1972 in Limerick Jerry and I were nearly always together on duty. When you saw one, you invariably saw the other. That close.”