Northern Ireland news

Radio documentary recalls colourful life of former Belfast Provo-turned crime novelist

Acclaimed Irish crime novelist Sam Millar

AN RTÉ Radio documentary to be broadcast this weekend tells the extraordinary story of a former Belfast-born IRA prisoner turned best-selling crime fiction writer.

It's a transatlantic tale full of twists and turns, with cameos from President Clinton, an Irish priest, an Irish-American ex-cop and a Liverpool-Irish boxer.

Born in west Belfast in 1955 to a Protestant father and Catholic mother, Sam Millar joined the republican movement soon after witnessing first hand events on Bloody Sunday.

Not long afterwards he was the first person to be jailed under the non-jury Diplock courts, receiving a three-year sentence for membership of the IRA. He got out in 1975 but the following year was back inside serving a 10-year stretch, having been caught with explosives in central Belfast.

He joined the blanket protest in the H Blocks and though asked to join the hunger strikes, couldn't bring himself to do so.

After his release in the mid-1980s Millar went to America, settling in New York where he began working as a bag man for an Irish American mobster, making good money and quickly moving up the ranks.

It was around this time that he hatched audacious plan to rob the Brink's cash depot in Rochester, upstate New York. However, after an accomplice got cold feet the heist was called off. The plot was revived some six years later in January 1993 when, after a robbery that ran like a comedy of errors, he escaped with several million dollars.

The Brink's cash depot in Rochester, New York robbed by Sam Millar

Following a convoluted series of events, worthy of the most adventurous crime fiction, Millar was finally arrested for the robbery and was facing 60 years behind bars.

However, he beat the main rap and ended up being sentenced to five years in jail. An intervention from President Clinton enabled him to serve his time back home, where after his release in 1997 he won the Brian Moore Short Story Award.

Millar has since published several novels, including a memoir, and is regarded as one of Ireland's leading crime writers.

His experiences, as recounted in Saturday's Michael Kealy and Tim Desmond-produced RTÉ Radio documentary, are stranger than fiction.

Documentary On One –The Seven Million Dollar Man airs on RTÉ Radio1 at 1pm on Saturday August 22 and Sunday August 23 at 7 pm

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe now to get full access

Northern Ireland news