Monday, November 12, 2012

About Time:Surviving Ireland's Death Row by Peter Pringle

You probably haven't heard of Peter Pringle, but this is his story. Launched officially by Colm O'Gorman, Executive Director of Amnesty International Ireland and published by The History Press Ireland, Peter Pringle's story is of facing in 1980 a sentence of death by hanging, changed to forty years without remission for the crime of capital murder. As the book tells us, the problem was that Peter did not commit this crime. The bleak black and white cover photograph of a cell bed with sheet and pillow with wired window is a grim warning of the story we are about to learn.

The clever double meaning title; 'about' the 'time' he spent in prison and trying to prove his innocence and 'about time' when he was eventually released and given the chance to tell his story and set the record straight. Peter acknowledges the help of the Human Rights Lawyer, Greg O'Neill and also Lorna Siggins who wrote an article about him in The Irish Times.
Opening with a converstion by his jailers in Portlaoise Prison in December 1980, in Peter's hearing,
where they discussed the hanging procedure and their involvement, the book then provides an account of Peter's life up to the fateful evening.
Born in Dublin in 1938 and leaving school at fourteen after defending a pupil being beaten by a Christian Brother he entered the world of work. Joining Sinn Fein at sixteen, excited by resistance to British rule in Ireland, a year later he joined the IRA. First arrested in 1956 at eighteen for nothing more than being on a weekend training exercise before imprisonment he was offered the chance to work for Special Branch informing on his fellow inmates for a salary. Refusing he was taken to Mountjoy but with the arrival of internment he was transferred at the end of his sentence to The Curragh Military Camp. Electing OCs and Camp Councils living here with "men of like philosophy was educational" to Peter. Gradually they were released, as was Pringle- he was still only twenty. On release he tried to re-establish his Dublin IRA unit and was apponted OC. Joining a unit in the border area he found himself back in Mountjoy, released again in 1962.

Married in 1963, Peter and his first wife lived in Luton as pub landlords, then returned to Dublin. But Peter became depressed and was drinking and he left his wife and children and went to London. Returning to his family he became active in the IRA again and moving for work to Donegal, close to Derry made it easier to be supportive of the Official IRA there.
Bloody Sunday- 30th January 1972. British Army paratroopers in Derry fire on peaceful civil rights marchers killing thirteen. Living now in Killybegs, with a change in the political atmosphere Peter is always now under the eye of the Special Branch. By 1975 Peter has become victim of the demon drink again and his wife tells him to leave.
Moving on to 1980, and leaving to talk to his wife, he stops to buy a bottle of whiskey which became a twelve day drinking binge, losing his car in the process. His drinking pal Paedar had heard the Gardai were looking for Pringle in relation to a bank robbery and shooting in County Roscommon where two Gardai were killed on the day he began his binge. Peter was arrested a couple of days later for the murder of a Garda.
This is when his nightmare began.

There is no doubt that Peter Pringle had been involved with the IRA in his life, but we must remember that this was the early IRA of the 1950s and 60s and not the IRA of latter years. Half of this book is Peter's story setting out his life, the life of the boy imprisoned at eighteen for going on night exercise with his army colleagues. A miscarriage of justice from the start, one amongst many, but we must now look forward and celebrate his release and persevere in the fight for those still held.
This story is immensely readable. We see Peter admit his weaknesses and recognition of where he made poor decisions, his battle with alcohol as well as the pride and love he has for his family.
The History press has done well to publish this story because it is one that deserves to be told. the background that Pringle provides in relation to various laws brought in to deal with the IRA are a lesson in the history of the State and the way in which it attempted to deal with these issues.
Of interest to those who like memoirs, Irish history and anyone who just likes a good read- all these and more will get great satisfaction from this book.
(In his post script Peter tells us that Pat Mc Cann and Colm O'Shea remain in prison.)

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