Martin Dillon

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Martin Dillon (born 2 June 1949) is a Northern Irish author, journalist, and radio/television producer/broadcaster. He has won international acclaim for his unique non-fiction works, best known for his trilogy, The Shankill Butchers, The Dirty War & God and the Gun, about the Troubles in Northern Ireland. He has interviewed paramilitary members, been invited to Downing Street, and reported on the Troubles as a fledgling journalist.

Early life[edit]

Martin Dillon was born in the Lower Falls area of West Belfast, Northern Ireland. He grew up with nine siblings in a traditional Catholic household. His mother, Maureen, looked after the children while his father, Gerard, worked as a watch maker and later telephone engineer to support his large family. Dillon attended the St Finian's Primary School on the Falls Road.

In 1961, aged twelve, he left Belfast to pursue a religious vocation at Montfort College Seminary in Romsey, Hampshire. The seminary was run by the Montfort Fathers, a French religious Order devoted to the teachings of St Louis Marie de Montfort. After four years, he abandoned it and returned to Belfast to finish his studies at St Malachy's College and St Patrick's, Barnageeha (both Belfast). He attended Belfast college of Business Studies in 1970.


Investigative journalism and first non-fiction book[edit]

In 1968, Dillon trained as a reporter with the Irish News, a daily newspaper with a mainly Irish Nationalist readership, and its weekly publication, The Irish Weekly. He reported on the violent events that sparked the Troubles. In 1972, he joined the Belfast Telegraph, Ireland's leading evening newspaper.

In 1973, he published his first non-fiction book, Political Murder in Northern Ireland, the content of the book is based on much of Dillon's own journalistic research and reporting for the Irish News and Belfast Telegraph.

BBC years[edit]

Radio broadcaster, Producer/writer, Creator of programs and TV shows[edit]

In 1973, Dillon joined BBC Northern Ireland’s Newsroom as a News Assistant. In 1975, he became a Radio Arts producer and later ran the General Programmes Radio Department, which constituted the majority of the BBC's radio output in Northern Ireland. He created the controversial[clarification needed] Behind the Headlines and Talkback programs. In 2016, Talkback celebrated its thirtieth anniversary.

In 1985, while working as a producer of Behind the Headlines, he persuaded SDLP leader, John Hume, and Provisional Sinn Fein President, Gerry Adams, to debate their political positions live on the program. During the broadcast, Hume agreed to meet with the Provisional IRA's Army Council, which is credited with opening a dialogue with the PIRA. He also introduced Hume to UDA paramilitary leader, John McMichael.

In 1989, he created The Show, a satirical television program that, despite its tremendous popularity, caused outrage at all levels of Irish society: churches, political parties and British government institutions were unhappy with the way satire was used to highlight contradictions in British policymaking.

In 1991, The Show was cancelled after three series and Dillon was asked to resign. He was soon offered a contract to work as a producer/writer with Timewatch, a BBC 2 award-winning documentary department, based at Elstree Studios outside London. His role was to script and produce a major series on the Northern Ireland Troubles. After a year working with the Timewatch he clashed with the BBC authorities and resigned, reaching a financial settlement.

Later career[edit]

TV commentator, columnist, terrorism analyst and expert for newspapers, magazines and networks in England, Canada and USA[edit]

In 1992, Dillon left BBC to pursue his writing career. He subsequently became a terrorism analyst and commentator for Sky Television and other television and radio networks. In 1992, he presented a television documentary, The Last Colony for Channel Four and RTÉ, which examined the origins of the Troubles, focusing on the confusing nature and failure of much of British policymaking of the period, especially of the Tory government led by Prime Minister Edward Heath.

Literary Works and Themes[edit]

In The Shankill Butchers, The Dirty War, and God and the Gun, Dillon offers a balanced and objective perspective of the conflict, the participants and their motives. The Irish Times issued the following review, "Dillon is recommended reading for anyone wishing to understand the complexities of British–Irish politics. He stands alone as one of the most creative writers of our time."[citation needed]

The Shankill Butchers, A Case Study of Mass Murder (1989) is a study of Northern Ireland's Shankill Butchers who preyed on Belfast Catholics. The Dirty War (1990) is a detailed account of the undercover struggle in which all sides fought a no-rules battle, using spies, informants, assassins, disinformation and terrorist agents. Dillon examines the roles played by the Provisional IRA, British Intelligence, including MI5 and Special Branch, British Military Intelligence, the Irish Government, and the British Army. Killer in Clowntown - Joe Doherty, the IRA and the Special Relationship (1992) is the tale of Joe Doherty, a convicted IRA gunman who frustrated the British Government's attempts from 1982 to 1992 to have him extradited from New York to Northern Ireland to serve a 30-year prison sentence for murdering a British Special Air Services Officer. Doherty was finally extradited in 1992.

Dillon was asked by the Federal Court in New York to provide testimony about the inner workings of the IRA, based on his work The Dirty War. He agreed on condition he would be judged a "friend of the court" (amicus curiae) witness and not seen as supporting any side. In the end, he was not called to give evidence.

In Stone Cold: True Story of Michael Stone and the Milltown Massacre (1992), Dillon describes Michael Stone, best-known for his attack on an IRA funeral in Belfast's Milltown Cemetery in March 1988, killing three men (one of whom was a Provisional IRA volunteer). Stone was captured and confessed to three other killings, which landed him a life sentence in the Maze Prison.

In The Enemy Within: The IRA War against the British (1994), Dillon examines the IRA bombing campaign in Britain before and after the Second World war, and through to the 1970s/80s. He analyzes the IRA's flirtation with Nazism and how Eire's wartime neutrality conditioned subsequent British policy towards Ireland. 25 years of Terror: The IRA's War against the British (1996) is the revised edition of The Enemy Within (1994).

The Serpent’s Tail (1995) is Dillon's first novel, based on a true-life story set against a background of ordinary family life in Catholic West Belfast. Dillon traces the steps of two young Belfast Catholics recruited as informers, who found themselves at the heart of a “sting” involving the IRA, the SAS and MI5. The film script of the novel won European Script Fund award in 1995.[citation needed]

In God and the Gun – The Church and Irish Terrorism (1997), Dillon explores the nexus of religion and paramilitarism. He interviewed paramilitaries and religious figures. In The Trigger Men: Assassins and Terror Bosses in the Ireland Conflict (2003), Dillon delves into the world of Irish terrorism and counterterrorism. He analyzes the personalities of some of the most dangerous, professional and ruthless killers in Northern Ireland, their motivations and the crimes they committed.

Dillon co-authored with the late Rt. Hon. Roy Bradford, Rogue Warrior of the SAS: A Biography of Col. “Paddy” Blair Mayne (1987). Mayne is regarded as one of the greatest soldiers in the history of military special operations. He is the most decorated fighting soldier of WWII, receiving four DSOs, the Croix de Guerre, and the Legion d’Honneur. He was one of the six founder members of the SAS and pioneered tactics used today by Special Forces units across the globe. His exploits against Rommel’s Desert forces and against the Nazis in Italy, France and Germany were legendary. His courage, initiative and wildness made him a giant among his men.

He was, however, denied the ultimate accolade of the Victoria Cross because of his unorthodox rules of war and his resentment of authority. In 2002, Dillon updated the new, revised edition Rogue Warrior of the SAS-the Blair Mayne Legend (2003) for Mainstream publishing. Dillon added a postscript with new facts about Mayne’s conflicted personal life, in particular, his sexuality which was a topic purposely omitted in the first edition of the book. Drawing on Mayne's personal letters and family papers, SAS secret records (now declassified), his own war diaries and eyewitness accounts from many who served with him, Dillon presents a compelling and perceptive portrait of a very special warrior.

'The Assassination of Robert Maxwell: Israel’s Superspy (2002; co-authored with late Gordon Thomas) is a biography of media mogul, Robert Maxwell, who played a crucial role for Israel's Mossad.

In his new memoir Crossing the Line-My Life on the Edge (2017), Dillon, "details a life that's involved many incredible moments: witnessing the horrors of the Troubles; encounters with major political figures and paramilitaries; rubbing shoulders with Irish literary greats; a successful broadcasting career, but one where he butted heads with BBC management; and having to leave Northern Ireland because of death threats", according to The Irish Times.

Readers of this book, and of Dillon’s other works, will agree that “He has that unique knack of combining forensic historical fact-based research with the art of thriller-like writing. His books have accurately chartered the terror and the horror of recent Northern Irish history but always in a tone of compassion for the innocent victims caught up in conflict. Works like his 'The Shankill Butchers' and 'The Dirty War' stand the test of time and will be essential reading for generations to come for those trying to make sense out of the madness that was 'The Troubles'. --Henry McDonald; author, journalist and Ireland correspondent for The Guardian.

Personal life[edit]

Dillon received numerous death threats. In 1988, he settled in France where he continued to write about the Irish conflict and publish bestselling books. After his divorce from his wife, Katherine in 2000, by whom he has a daughter, Nadia Katherine, he visited New York at the invitation of his publisher.

He decided to make New York his home. He went on to write and broadcast for news outlets in the U.S. and Canada, appearing on CNN, ABC and NBC as a guest and a global expert on terrorism and organized crime. In 2003, he married, Violeta Kumurdjieva, a Bulgarian journalist and translator. In 2014, they moved from New York City to San Francisco Bay area, California, where Dillon continues to work on his journalism, television and book projects.



  • Political Murder in Northern Ireland (co-authored with Denis Lehane), 1973
  • Rogue Warrior of the SAS: A biography of Col. “Paddy” Blair Mayne (co-authored with Roy Bradford), 1987
  • Rogue Warrior of the SAS: The Blair Mayne Legend, with late Roy Bradford, 2003, revised edition, updated by Dillon
  • The Shankill Butchers: A Case Study of Mass Murder (1989)
  • The Dirty War (1990)
  • Stone Cold: True Story of Michael Stone and the Milltown Massacre (1992)
  • Killer in Clowntown: Joe Doherty, the IRA and the Special Relationship (1992)
  • The Enemy Within (1994)
  • 25 Years of Terror: The IRA's War Against the British (1996; revised edition of The Enemy Within)
  • God and the Gun: The Church and Irish Terrorism (1997)
  • The Assassination of Robert Maxwell: Israel's Superspy (co-authored with Gordon Thomas; 2002)
  • Robert Maxwell, Israel’s Superspy: The Life and Murder of a Media Mogul, 2002(American edition)
  • The Trigger Men (2003)
  • Shankill Butchers/The Dirty War/Stone Cold—Three Books in One (2006)
  • Crossing the Line: My Life on the Edge (2017)


The Serpent’s Tail, 1995


  • The Squad, 1976 (BBC Radio Three, BBC2 TV)
  • The Waiting Room, 1976
  • The Dog, 1976


  • The Serpent's Tail (1995)
  • Other Men's Flowers (2002)

Short Stories[edit]

  • Jimmy the Natural (2011; published in The Best Travel Writing 2011: True Stories from Around the World Anthology, 2011)
  • The Last Confession (2000; published in Ireland: True Stories of Life on the Emerald Isle, Travelers' Tales Anthology, 2000)


In 1995, the screenplay of the novel, The Serpent’s Tail won a European Script Fund Award.