Hollywood stars Liam Neeson and Ciaran Hinds took a break from filming their latest blockbuster in south-west Donegal to bring cheer to Ukrainian refugees living in the area.
The Northern Irish actors, who are currently shooting the movie In the Land of Saints and Sinners, visited up to 80 woman and children at the Niall Mór Community and Enterprise Centre in the fishing village, talking to them about their experiences of living in Ireland and giving gifts to the youngsters.
The meeting was facilitated by Donegal Local Development CLG (DLDC), a community-led organisation which provides a range of services to much of Co Donegal, including the Social Inclusion and Community Activation Programme (SICAP). Through this initiative, DLDC staff check in regularly with the refugees to ensure they are settling into their new accommodation and the local community.
Neeson and Hinds, who are close friends, have been shooting In the Land of Saints and Sinners in Killybegs, Glencolmcille, Kilcar and surrounding areas since April.
When the pair heard that Ukrainian families were living locally, they expressed an interest in meeting with them and the film’s production team reached out to DLDC to see if it could facilitate a meet-and-greet.
The Niall Mór Community and Enterprise Centre offers English language lessons to the refugees and recently hosted an open day for them as well. It was agreed the centre would host the visit by the two Oscar-nominated actors and around 80 Ukrainians from three different parishes, Kilcar, Carrick and Glencolmcille, were invited to attend.
A spokesperson for the Niall Mór Centre said: “Everyone was so excited when we heard that Liam Neeson and Ciarán Hinds were coming to the centre last Thursday. It’s not every day we get stars like them coming here.
“We presumed it would only be a 15-minute meet-and-greet, but in the end, the two men stayed for a couple of hours.
“When they arrived, they introduced themselves, took questions from the women and gave all the children, around 40 of them, goody bags of sweets and colouring books to take away with them.
“The women spoke to them about what it was like living in Ireland now and how everyone had been so generous and welcoming to them. They told the two actors they loved it and were grateful for all the support.
“The men were very generous with their time and met with all the staff. They were both so down-to-earth, pleasant and friendly; just two gentlemen really.”
The spokesperson said the women and children were well acquainted with the work of Taken star Neeson, one of Hollywood’s highest profile actors. But when they discovered Hinds had recently been nominated for an Oscar for his role as Kenneth Branagh’s grandfather in the film Belfast, they were thrilled.
“Liam made a point of telling them all that Ciaran had been nominated for an Oscar for best Supporting Actor recently and that got a loud cheer,” said the spokesperson.
“The children made posters for them which the two men took away.
“It was all very light-hearted and the visit really made everyone’s day.”
Margaret Larkin, community development manager at DLDC, said the visit by Neeson and Hinds was a huge boost for the refugees.
“When we heard that the actors wanted to meet the refugees, we arranged for buses to transport them from three different areas to Killybegs,” she said.
“We have an interpreter working in the area, who has lived here for a few years now, and she was able to help everyone understand what was being said.
“Liam and Ciaran signed autographs, posed for photographs and heard from the women about how much they loved living here.
“It was a lovely, informal day for all involved and one which everyone at Niall Mór will remember forever.”
Neeson, who is a goodwill ambassador for UNICEF and Hinds star alongside Kerry Condon and Jack Gleeson in the new film, written by Mark Michael McNally and Terry Loane.
In the Land of Saints and Sinners is set in a remote Irish village, where a newly retired assassin finds himself drawn into a lethal game of cat and mouse with a trio of vengeful terrorists.
Filming is ongoing and a release date for the film hasn’t been set yet.