The award of Honorary Freedom of Limerick has been conferred on the late Detective Garda Jerry McCabe and his partner, retired Detective Garda Ben O’Sullivan.
The special ceremony took place this evening [Thursday 28 June 2018] at Istabraq Hall in Limerick City and County Council’s Corporate Headquarters in Merchant’s Quay, Limerick in front of the families and friends of the O’Sullivan and McCabe families and around 150 invited guests, including Assistant Garda Commissioners Anne-Marie McMahon and David Sheahan, both of whom were stationed in Limerick for long periods.
Limerick City and County Council Chief Executive Conn Murray read aloud the text of the Scroll of Freedom before Mayor of the City and County of Limerick Cllr Stephen Keary presented the ceremonial document to Ben O’Sullivan and the Jerry McCabe’s widow Ann.
Mayor of the City and County of Limerick Cllr Stephen Keary said: “It is a privilege to confer this title on these two fine men. This honour is reserved for those who have made exceptional and unique contributions, and they certainly have.”
“Jerry gave his life and Ben, who was seriously injured in that same truly terrible incident in June 1996 and who thankfully made a great recovery.”
“That terrible incident shocked the whole of Limerick and Ireland, with the revulsion people felt when they woke to hear the news that two men, detectives, husbands, fathers were shot while doing their job.”
Accepting the honour an emotional Ben O’Sullivan said: “I’m lucky enough to be with you here this evening. I was lucky to escape with my life. People said at the time that I was invincible but that is totally inaccurate. If I had been shot in the same places as Jerry was, I would be with Jerry today.”
“Both Jerry and I held each other in such high esteem. We entered the gardaí at the same time and progressed through the ranks together until that fateful day in 1996. My family didn’t have to suffer what Jerry’s family did but it was a struggle as I recovered.”
“I am humbled with being conferred with the Honorary Freedom of Limerick. Jerry deserves to be adored, I deserve to be remembered. Jerry paid the ultimate sacrifice.”
Accepting the honour on behalf of her husband, Ann McCabe said: “My family and I are delighted and greatly honoured to celebrate the conferring of this title on my late husband. The experience we are enjoying as we come to understand and appreciate the high esteem and great regard the community of Limerick have for Jerry and Ben”.
“My husband Jerry died for Ireland – it was not his choice, I would hope that we would reflect not on the way Jerry died, but on the way he lived – a life dedicated to his much cherished family, total commitment to his duties as a member of the Special Branch of An Garda Síochána and a willingness to help anybody in the community.”
The ceremony was followed by a musical performance from Teresa Nolan accompanied by harpist Madeline Meahan.
Ben O’Sullivan and Jerry McCabe RIP become the 68th and 69th people to be conferred with the ‘Freeman’ title and only the second and third people receiving the Honorary Freedom of Limerick.
President Michael D Higgins was the first recipient of the title of Honorary Freedom of Limerick following the formal establishment of Limerick City and County Council on 01 June 2014.
Previously Limerick City Council used to bestow the title ‘Freeman of Limerick City’ and former recipients include Eamon De Valera, John F Kennedy, Maud Gonne, John Hunt, Dr Ed Walsh, Bill Clinton, JP McManus, Terry Wogan, Bill Whelan and Paul O’Connell.
The Freedom of Limerick is an honour that is reserved solely for those who have made exceptional or unique contributions to the common good or to persons who have made outstanding contributions to the business, commercial, educational or cultural life of Limerick, Ireland or internationally.
Freedom of the City or Freedom of any given municipality is an honour dating back to ancient Empire which regarded the "pomerium", the boundary of the city, as sacred.
The honour, sometimes called the Freedom of Entry, was granted by municipal authorities to military units which had earned the city's trust. It allowed them the freedom to parade through the city, and was an affirmation of the bond between the units and the citizenry.
The honour also has its roots in medieval times, arising from the practice of granting respected citizens freedom from serfdom. During the 18th and 19th centuries, the honour was essential to anyone who wished to trade or exercise their craft within any given City's boundaries.
In later years, the honour has more commonly been bestowed by a municipality upon a valued member of the community, or upon a visiting celebrity or dignitary. Meanwhile, the right to award Freedoms was extended to all local authorities in 2001.
It remains one of the oldest surviving traditional ceremonies still in existence throughout the world today, particularly in the Republic of Ireland, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and New Zealand.