Martin McDonagh was born in Camberwell, London (UK) on 26 March 1970 to Irish parents. He dropped out of school at age 16, living off welfare and taking a job every now and then. His parents moved back to Ireland when he was 16, and he stayed in London with his brother John. John McDonagh is also a writer, and wrote the screenplay for "Ned Kelly" starring Heath Ledger and Orlando Bloom. Martin started writing right after he left school. Most of his early writing consisted of radio plays and screenplays, until he wrote a series of theatre plays in 1994/1995 that would bring success.
On 1 February 1996, The Beauty Queen of Leenane opened at the Town Hall Theatre in Galway. Only a month later, the same play opened at the Royal Court Theatre Upstairs in London. The Beauty Queen of Leenane won the Critics' Circle Theatre Award in 1996. In 1999 The Lonesome West was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Play. Other plays that were published and produced are A Skull in Connemara (1997), The Cripple of Inishmaan (1996), The Lieutenant of Inishmore (2001, nominated for a Tony Award for Best Play in 2006) and The Pillowman (2003). The Pillowman won the Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Play in 2004, and was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Play in 2005. Martin McDonagh is the first dramatist since Shakespeare to have four works professionally produced on the London stage in one single season.
Having previously expressed a love of film, his success gave him the opportunity to make the short film Six Shooter, which he wrote and directed. The short film starred Ruaidhri Conroy and Brendan Gleeson, and was filmed on a train in Ireland. Six Shooter won the Academy Award for Best Short Film in 2006.
In 2007 he began filming his first feature film as a writer and director, In Bruges. The film was shot on location in Bruges, and also partially in London. The budget was $15 million, and the filming started in February, to end on 23 March. In Bruges opened the 2008 Sundance Film Festival and was praised by film critics. Lead characters in the film were played by Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson (who also played the lead in 2006's Six Shooter) and Ralph Fiennes. In Bruges is currently nominated for three Golden Globes, and amongst other awards has won Martin McDonagh the Writers Guild Award. In Bruges was also nominated for seven British Independent Film Awards, of which Martin won the "Best Screenplay" award.
Some of McDonagh's plays and screenplays have so far remained unpublished. One of them is The Banshees of Inisheer, the play that completes the Aran Islands Trilogy. According to Martin this is because "it isn't any good." Lists of unpublished work can also be found on this website.
In December 2008, The Cripple of Inishmaan opened off-Broadway, and Martin was present at the rehearsals and opening. He has expressed the possibility of making another film in a few years, but first wants to "travel, write and grow up".