An RTÉ Radio documentary this weekend tells the extraordinary story of a former Belfast-born IRA prisoner turned bestselling crime fiction writer. Born in west Belfast in 1955 to a Protestant father and Catholic mother, Sam Millar joined the republican movement soon after witnessing first-hand the events of Bloody Sunday. Soon after he was the first person to be convicted under the non-jury Diplock courts, receiving a three-year sentence for IRA membership. He got out in 1975 but the following year was back inside serving a 10-year sentence for possession of explosives. In the H Blocks, he joined the blanket protest but couldn’t bring himself to join the hunger strikes.
After his release in the mid-1980s, Millar settled in New York where he found work as a bag man for an Irish American mobster, making good money and moving up the criminal ranks.
It was around this time that he hatched a daring 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 was almost farcical, he escaped with seven million dollars. Following a convoluted series of events, worthy of best-selling crime fiction, Millar was finally arrested for the robbery and faced a 60 year sentence.
However, he escaped the main charge against him and ended up being sentenced to only five years in prison. An intervention from President Clinton enabled him to serve his time back home. After his release in 1997, Millar was launched on a writing career when he won the Brian Moore Short Story Award. He has since published several novels, and a memoir, and is now established as one of Ireland’s leading crime writers. His experiences are recounted in a Michael Kealy and Tim Desmond-produced RTÉ Radio documentary.
Documentary On One –The Seven Million Dollar Man airs on RTÉ Radio1 at 1pm on Saturday 22 August and at 7pm on Sunday 23 August.