Peter Pringle’s death puts events of 1980 in Ballaghaderreen back in public eye

He was wrongly convicted of murder of two gardaí in Roscommon

The recent death of Peter Pringle (84) led to renewed media focus recently on the murder of gardaí John Morley and Henry Byrne following a bank robbery in County Roscommon in 1980.

Pringle, later cleared of any wrongdoing and deemed to have been wrongly convicted, was one of three men who were sentenced to death for the capital murders of the two gardaí.

The shooting dead of Detective Garda John Morley and Garda Henry Byrne shocked the nation, devastating two families and numbing the local communities in which the popular officers were so highly regarded.

On July 7th 1980, an armed gang carried out a raid at the Bank of Ireland in Ballaghaderreen. Gardaí intercepted the bank robbers at Shannon’s Cross, near Loughglynn village. After the gang’s vehicle collided with the patrol car, its occupants opened fire on the gardaí. Detective Garda Morley and Garda Byrne were shot dead.

Three men – Colm O’Shea, Patrick McCann and Peter Pringle – were convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death. Just weeks before they were due to be executed, their sentences were commuted to 40 years in prison. In 1995, having served almost 15 years in jail, Pringle was released after his conviction was deemed unsafe and quashed. O’Shea and McCann both served 33 years in prison, before being released in 2013.

Well-known journalist Mick Clifford recently wrote an article in the Irish Examiner on the speculation that Pringle was ‘the third man’ in the criminal gang in Ballaghaderreen on that day in 1981. Mr. Clifford also contributed to a discussion on RTE Radio 1’s Liveline last Friday, as did Mr. Pringle’s widow, Sunny, herself a former death row prisoner.

Pringle was arrested in Galway city two weeks after Henry Byrne and John Morley were shot dead. He claimed then – and ever since – that he had nothing to do with the events of July 7th 1980 in West Roscommon. After the Court of Criminal Appeal found his convictions to be unsafe and unsatisfactory in 1995, Pringle’s wrongful conviction led to him taking a number of civil actions against the State. He became a human rights campaigner, a role which saw him campaign against the death penalty. By then separated from his first wife, Pringle married Sunny Jacobs, who herself had been on death row in America many years earlier.

In 1976, Jacobs and two men – including her then boyfriend Jesse Tafero – were convicted of the murder of policemen Phillip Black and Donald Irwin. She was placed on death row, but was exonerated 17 years later.

Peter Pringle, of Connemara, Co. Galway (and formerly of Killybegs, Co. Donegal) died on December 31st, 2022.