We are sitting in Clarrie Pringle’s kitchen in Mountcharles when she tells me she found out early that she wanted to make a difference.
Clarrie was raised beside Phoenix Park in Dublin and was the youngest of four.
Her father was an engineer who went to mass every day of the week except Sundays. She says he was a great reader and always encouraged her to think for herself. Her mother was a compassionate woman, who liked to help others when she could.
“When I was a child my mother asked me to take a blind neighbour to the pictures to see “Gone with the Wind”. Bridie was always considered a bit strange and at eight I could not see the point. I went anyway.
“Afterwards the joy it brought to the old lady filled me with such satisfaction that I became convinced that instead of shunning those who are different, we need to create a society where everyone’s differing needs and abilities are celebrated.”
Later as a young mother in Killybegs in 1974, Clarrie spoke up when she found the newly launched woodworking night class was for men only. Annoyed at the apparent sexism, Clarrie tackled the principal of the college and after some discussions, she persuaded him to agree that if she could find twelve women locally interested in taking part, he would run a class. Clarrie found 18. Not one night was missed by anyone that winter.
Later when the National Purchase Scheme was introduced to council residents in Killybegs, Clarrie and a number of local people formed a residents association and together they persuaded Donegal County Council to reduce the interest rate for those wanting to buy from 16% to 11%.
“People need to realise their power and take action. By coming together they can win the arguments. I believe passionately that collective action can be successful.”
It was this attitude which galvanised her to join the anti-nuclear campaign at Carnsore Point in Wexford in the seventies when hundreds of thousands joined Christy Moore and others to say no to nuclear plants on Irish soil. Every weekend Clarrie travelled down in her old battered car, children in tow and camped out in a one man tent adding her voice to the many others.
Through the decades there have been many campaigns, some more successful than others, throughout them all Clarrie has kept the faith and always fought for what she believed in. Much of that determination she has passed onto her son Thomas who is a TD for Donegal South West.
These days Clarrie has an ambition to see a civil rights module introduced into the school curriculum. “The 1916 proclamation enshrined the freedom, rights and responsibilities of Irish people and that was 100 years ago. They agreed that children should be cherished. When you read now about all the child abuse, the mother and baby homes, you realise that children have never been respected by the organs of state in the way that was intended,” she says.
“With a civil rights module, every teacher would be trained in human rights and how to respect children. Progress could be monitored by inspections until it became a routine part of school life. I’m thinking of doing a website petition.”
Clarrie also feels strongly about the role of women in politics saying she’s disappointed that the small minority of women who do succeed, appear to act more like men and don’t really try to reform the system to treat women more equally. I asked her whether she’d ever retire from campaigning. She shook her head. “I keep thinking of retiring but always something new makes me angry and I have to act. I can write, I can talk and I can ask. I may be a woman of mature age but that doesn’t stop me from having views and opinions that deserve to be listened to”.