On the right track - Anne Hailes

Anne Hailes is ready for action as she visits Whitehead Railway Museum which has been transformed into the set of short film, Long Shadows

Anne Hailes

Anne Hailes

Anne is Northern Ireland's first lady of journalism, having worked in the media since she joined Ulster Television when she was 17. Her columns have been entertaining and informing Irish News readers for 25 years.

Ready for action, Actor Conor O’Donnell who plays the young Michael,  director Colm G Doran and writer Michael Cameron on set at Whitehead Railway Museum
Ready for action, actor Conor O’Donnell who plays the young Michael, director Colm G Doran and writer Michael Cameron on set at Whitehead Railway Museum

For playwright Michael Cameron it began on a rail journey to Portrush. For me it began over lunch a couple of months ago. It was then that Michael told me a powerful story.

An older man got on to the train at Belfast and sat opposite Michael. The man was drunk, loud and disruptive, armed with a bag of beer cans and a lot of conversation. As the older man gets going, the two strike up a friendship as far as Antrim, where the younger man lived. The older man travelled on to Ballymoney, where he thought he lived. It’s a tale of serendipity: the young Michael had just had a row with his girlfriend, the older man an amorous liaison with a woman in a bar and just wanted to get home for tea. But why had he turned to drink and a lifestyle that labelled him an undesirable?

Eventually he comes to the heart of his story and begins to speak of his son, about the same age as his fellow passenger and similar in looks. The story that followed affected Michael Cameron so much that he wrote it down as a short story. Now that short story has become a film script which has been taken up by NI Screen, co-producers with Michael’s company Little Willow Productions.

Action at Whitehead

Last week in the waiting room at Whitehead Railway Museum I was updated on the story. The old fashioned area was transformed into an office for production staff to study angles and talk logistics, for props and equipment, for cameraman Dwayne Douglas to set up his menu of shots, for make-up artist Hannah Davison to begin putting years on actor James Doran, who plays the older man; next is Conor O’Donnell, the younger man.

Colm G. Doran is director and kindly gets me a cup of tea and gestures to a table loaded down with apples, bananas, biscuits and nutritious bars of fruit and nut - not quite Brief Encounter but close...

Co-producer Anna Callan isn’t there as she’s filming in Italy but her production colleague Caoilfhionn MacEoin-Manus is bent over a computer examining dear knows what. Most of the crew work in film and television during the week but such is their love for the industry they take on short films when they get the chance.

On hand are two museum volunteers, Ryan Downey and Rachael Harris, and staff member Adam Lottoff. They tell me about the train which features in the film but mostly they talk about the steam trains that will soon be in action with excursions as far apart at Portrush and Dublin; they loved the fact that when I lived in Lambeg, I would carry a bucket of coal on to the platform to help the steam train get to Dublin on time then, some years later, the effect a trip to Portrush on a seven-year-old grandson - even now, when he’s grown up and working in London, that excitement, the huge plumes of steam and the rhythm of the wheels on the track still gets talked about.

On the platform outside sits the 1963 Class 141 engine with Mark 2 1970 carriages waiting for action but a squally rain shower descends with a vengeance and first assistant director Tim Lyons swings through the door to announce that outdoor shooting is on hold, and instead it’s “Rehearsal in the carriage, please”. As the crew, actors and extras leave the waiting room to clamber into the train I follow suit and sit at the back, well out of shot, as Tim shouts “Action”, I’m transfixed as the two actors recount their stories. There isn’t a sound but for their voices, their words holding the audience as I’m sure they will when the film Long Shadows premieres later this year.

Between Heaven And Earth

A painting from Bob Speer’s exhibition Thin Place
A painting from Bob Speers' exhibition Thin Place

Artist Bob Speers is holding his latest exhibition at the QSS Gallery, Bloomfield Avenue, Belfast until Thursday April 25.

As usual it’s a challenging series of paintings, this time featuring the folklore of peatlands. Entitled Thin Place, he has roamed moors and bogland for inspiration and the result is a series of fascinating colours and patterns, each telling the story of both Irish mythology and climate change.

He explains that the term ‘thin place’ refers to a location where the veil between the physical world and the mystical otherworld appears ‘thin’, a translucent space where the boundaries between our tangible world and the unseen world could touch, by its very nature a place where there was no barrier between heaven and earth.

Today, peatlands are still considered to have this special significance and to offer a mysterious connection between the worldly and the hallowed and this is reflected in Bob’s exhibition. More at