Triumphant Pringle recalls heartache of learning father was sentenced to death

They say that in the midst of joy, sadness is never far away. The adage was never truer than on the night Thomas Pringle learned he had been elected to Dáil Eireann.

They say that in the midst of joy, sadness is never far away. The adage was never truer than on the night Thomas Pringle learned he had been elected to Dáil Eireann.

The 43-year old Independent from Killybegs was on the phone straightaway to share the great news with his father Peter. The moment was in stark contrast to the time when Thomas, still a teenager, was told that his father had been sentenced to the death penalty.

“My parents separated in 1978, when I was twelve, and my father moved to the Galway area.

“Two years later, my mother sat me down to tell me that he had been arrested on suspicion of being involved in the death of Garda Henry Byrne, who was shot during an attempted bank robbery in Ballaghadereen, Roscommon.”

“I knew there was something unusual happening because the Gardai were in the house.

“I was devastated. When he was officially given a death sentence, I was in shock.”

Peter Pringle, Patrick McCann and Colm O’Shea were sentenced to be hanged on December 19, 1980. However, following a number of appeals, President Patrick Hillery commuted the sentences to 40 years imprisonment in May, 1981.

Thomas took the bus to visit his father his father in Portlaoise Prison and recalls how the bus-driver would stop automatically outside the jail when his family were visiting.

Thomas says he never believed his father was guilty, and he was vindicated when his sentence was quashed in 1995.

Last Saturday week, as Thomas and his supporters waited eagerly at the St. John of Bosco centre in Donegal town for the election results, he was in regular contact with his father.

“I rang him fairly early on, when the first unofficial tallies were in and it looked like I was in with a chance, and I kept in touch with him throughout the day and evening.

“When it was finally announced, at 10.30pm, that I had been elected, I rang him again. “I was in shock really and my father was quite emotional. It was very satisfying to beat Mary Coughlan. We had set out form the start to target her seat.”

The pair met over last weekend, when Peter came to visit Thomas in Donegal. “We also had a big thank you party for all my supporters on Saturday night at The Cope House. Now it will be down to hard work. I’ll be meeting up with other Independents in Dublin on Tuesday, to discuss forming a technical group, and then Wednesday will be my first day in the Dáil.”

He’s even bought a new suit for the occasion but don’t expect him to wear a tie. “I don’t believe a suit makes a man. It’s not me.”