News Analysis

Tuesday 16 September 2014

A life less ordinary for this incredible survivor

Published 08/11/2003 | 00:11

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On The Brinks By Sam Millar Wynkin de Worde, ?14.99 Frank Shouldice By any standards, Sam Millar has led a remarkable life. Born a Catholic in Belfast in 1955, his adolescence through the Troubles ended with "the dubious distinction of being the first Irish nationalist to appear in front of the infamous non-jury Diplock court". Three years in Long Kesh for belonging

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On The Brinks By Sam Millar Wynkin de Worde, ?14.99 Frank Shouldice By any standards, Sam Millar has led a remarkable life. Born a Catholic in Belfast in 1955, his adolescence through the Troubles ended with "the dubious distinction of being the first Irish nationalist to appear in front of the infamous non-jury Diplock court". Three years in Long Kesh for belonging to an illegal organisation was followed by a second stint for seven, most of which he spent on the blanket protest. He then emigrated to New York and worked in illicit casinos before teaming up with an associate to rob $7.2 million from the hitherto impregnable Brinks Security operation in Rochester.

It was a daring and bloodless heist. He was caught but prosecutors failed to tie up the case against the defendants. Millar served 15 months of a five-year jail rap before Bill Clinton allowed him transfer to Maghaberry Prison to finish out his sentence in 1997. This memoir divides comfortably between the North and New York.

Millar's vivid recollection of privations withstood during the blanket protest offers grim testimony to the limits of human endurance. Like others around him, Millar would not be broken, even when political conviction was reduced to dogged resistance against a repressive prison regime.

The American chapters unveil a gambling underworld run by New York's Irish gangs. The empire wasn't built to last but Millar eyed a much bigger prize, betraying an American-Irish friend (ex-cop Tom O'Connor) who worked upstate at Brinks. The robbery took years to plan but sounds unbelievably simple in the execution.

When trying to stash the takings afterwards, Millar enlisted the help of Fr Pat, an Irish priest working with the poor on Manhattan's Lower East Side. The duo were exposed by a tip-off to the FBI but the author does not reveal the identity of the informer's voice with "the telltale twang of Belfast, only partially eroded by years in America".

Despite such omissions, however, no one can dispute Sam Millar is an incredible survivor. Most certainly, a life less ordinary.

Frank Shouldice is a playwright and freelance journalist

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