Messages from Beyond ~ Help from Michael…


michael barnes reduced 250x358 The theatre tour this year has been very arduous and the weekly change of venue, has found the company and myself, zig zagging up and down and across the country - Glasgow, Bournemouth, Ireland, Newcastle-upon-Tyne - of all the aspects of my profession, travelling is the part I would miss the least.

Touring requires both stamina and also a strong sense of a personal centre to cope, not only with different theatres, but also with the wanderers life-style of different "digs" and various accommodations each week.

Last year I was able to get home, at least for Sundays, but this year I am lucky if I see my home twice a month - and then only for a day or part of it.


This has also meant that my usual regular visits to Spiritualist Church have been interrupted. Perhaps oddly, I think that this may not be such a bad thing. During the first two years after Christina passed away, the church became my centre and my support, but I know in my heart that my centre should be within myself and not external, no matter how comforting that external support may be.

Neverthless, I was able to visit my friends at church, on the Sunday before we all flew to Belfast three weeks ago. The visiting medium was an elderly charismatic lady, who I immediately felt drawn towards and who, in her ‘messages’ to the congregation, turned to me and announced that there was a gentleman with her in spirit, who was here to help me.

Now I have received many messages through spiritual mediums, all encouraging me to write. The reason I have four blogs and a website, is solely through my experiences and contact from ‘beyond’. Yet I remain (and maybe always will) a sceptic when it comes to the existence and the nature of the spirit world.

The message was encouraging however, in that it seemed to be the same as all the others over the past three years. The medium described my spiritual helper as being:

’surrounded by books’

I suppose it was natural for me to assume that the ‘help’ would be with my writing…


Northern Ireland and Belfast has changed enormously since my first visit in 1980. At that time, the ‘troubles’ were at a high and everyone was affected by them. I expect there was some risk in being there at the time, especially being English, but the Irish are such a warm spontaneous people, that I seldom felt in any danger.

It was in this climate of unrest, that an eccentric professor of Modern History, became a leading figure in the continuance and development of the performing arts in Belfast.

20725 Michael Barnes cut a strange and angular figure that somehow complimented and blended with the unrest of the time.


My first impression was that I had met Fagin from Oliver Twist, in fact the character as played by Ron Moody in the film and stage musical version, could have been his twin brother, this likeness together with a total disregard for his own appearance, increased with time, until our last meeting in 1989.

Photo: Chris Hill

Last meetings grow with increasing years, but I was still a relatively young man, when Michael treated me to a banquet of a meal in the theatre restaurant. I can remember roast pork on a spit, roast potatoes covered in herbs and peas that tasted like they had just come straight from the pod. All that and a really beautiful bottle of vintage red wine. I was frankly overawed with the man; there is no other word to describe the disheveled academic other than ‘erudite’.

There is a natural gap or difference between the English and the Celts of Ireland, Wales and Scotland, that political correctness tends to avoid, but which is fascinating when traced right back to it’s origins, at the time of the Teutonic/Nordic invasions. So the unlikely success of Michael’s tenure as Artistic Director of the Grand Opera House and the affection with which he was regarded owed as much to his uncompromising aura of ‘Educated Englishman’ as it did to the natural Celtic appreciation and understanding of a man driven by the convictions of his heart.

At a time when British Actors Equity was advising theatre companies not to go to strife-torn Northern Ireland, Michael was persuading managements in England, Scotland and Europe, to send their productions over to Northern Ireland and to the Opera House. The current success and reputation of the Opera House is due in no small part to the shambling Professor Barnes.

Our current visit was the first in over three years and I noticed a painting of Michael in the ‘Green Room’ that seemed to be new - there was no indication that he had died, but I had a distinct feeling that he had passed on. The painting fascinated me and each day I spent some time, looking at the posture and expression of the man I remembered so well.

Everyone has good days and bad days and the first Thursday of our visit was one of the latter. I have a love/hate relationship with my work and on that particular day, I felt that I never wanted to see the inside of a theatre again, or choreograph, or act, or for that matter, dance again.

At one point during the dismal day, I passed through the Green Room and said firmly and loudly to the painting:

"Michael, I know you’ve passed on - What am I going to do with my life?"

Michael looked down from the wall, with an expression I remembered so well.


Belfast has now been transformed from a war-torn city, full of British soldiers, barbed wire, armoured tanks and constant searches and check-points, into a bustling city with shops, stores and a shortage of cabs on a Saturday night. After unsuccessfully trying for around half an hour the following Saturday, I was eventually successful in ‘bagging’ on of the busy drivers. My driver turned out to be from the Philippines.

Cab drivers, the world over, are natural conversationalists. I have in the past (now to my regret) cut short the first expected question of "What do you do?" opting instead for silence and thinking time. Since my Stonehenge transformation however, I have turned over a new leaf and in fact started off the chatter by asking my driver, how he came to be living and working in Belfast. It turned out that his wife was a nurse in a local old-peoples home and that he had come over to join her. His ability with the English language had not improved in relation to his smooth driving however and the conversation was slow - until I told him that I was working at the Opera House.

"You know Michael Barnes then?"

How on earth did a taxi driver from the Philippines know about Michael?

"My wife nursed him just before he died. He used to get out of bed, put on his dressing gown and dance with her"

"He just loved to dance"

and then I remembered the medium at church and the message of help…

Yes Michael, I’ve got the message

"I’ll keep dancing"


As Thomas is my patron saint, the doubts inevitably crept in. As I passed by the painting each day, I became less convinced that I had actually received a message from beyond - a spiritual medium, a message of help, a Phillipino cab driver’s wife who danced around hospital beds with Michael, only weeks before he died. It all made a lovely story - but maybe also a lovely illusion.

 Like Thomas, I needed more proof…

The cost of hotels and guest-house accommodation has soared in Belfast, but I had managed to find a local woman on the theatre ‘digs-list’ who was delighted to let me stay in her spare bedroom for a nominal rent   - except that, as she was having a conservatory built at the back of her house, there would be a lot of noise from the workmen - and there was!

On the final Friday, I pottered downstairs to make a cup of tea and found myself in a long conversation about Irish comedians as opposed to English ones. The whole thing developed delightfully into a Celtic-English contest, as to who could come up with the most names and the most memorable jokes. I must have done well, as one of the workmen suddenly said

"Do you work in the theatre then?"

When I affirmed that I did, his reply could have come straight from the mouth of the medium at the beginning of the story, or indeed from Michael himself:

"I worked for Michael Barnes, just before he went into the nursing home. I put up lots of bookshelves for him. He was surrounded by books you see. The whole house was full of them and he only had space for one chair in his living room because he was…

                                      …surrounded by books."


I passed by Michael’s picture the following day and I swear he smiled at me…

                           (but maybe it was just a trick of the light)

michel portrait from below 465pix


Michael Barnes, OBE, arts administrator, was born on October 31, 1932. He died on May 14, 2008, aged 75


Obituary in "The Stage"

Obituary in "The Times" 


  1. Comment by Tamera on September 8, 2008 2:01 pm

    Absolutely fascinating, and you write so beautifully. It will be exciting to read of any further guidance you receive!

  2. Comment by Eric S. on September 10, 2008 4:40 am

    Henry, that is a wonderful story with an interesting yet somewhat mystic background. I do so enjoy the way in which you relate the happenings from your recent tour in Ireland, a place I would dearly love to see some day. Of course I have the images of the Duke and his famous pugilistic scenes, fighting his way through an Irish community stuck in my head.

    As to your messages, I too am a skeptic. Yet at the same time, have come to the decision that I can not explain everything. There is something comforting in believing a friend or loved one’s spirit is trying guide us along the correct path.

    My own personal experience is at my fathers funeral. He was a well respected man in our community, but one that preferred to keep to himself. Always one of the first to lend a hand when needed, but never wanting any credit or recognition. At his funeral, we had scheduled it to be held at the school knowing there would be a large turn out. The weather was to be nice, no storms expected even though we were well into fall. On the day of the funeral though there was a severe blizzard that came from nowhere. The main highway ended up being closed down preventing many from attending. I still believe to this day that it was him trying to get people “not to make a fuss”. Over 300 people still attended.

    Illusion or reality, I think what really matters is what and why we choose to believe.

  3. Comment by Robin Easton on September 10, 2008 6:38 pm

    I JUST love the way you move through the world really “SEEING” things and not taking them for granted. You are someone who seeks out magic and wonder and beauty. I too believe that souls who we are connected to guide us and watch over us and actually WANT to help us. I’ve felt this with my father and my mother and others. I sometimes remind myself to ask for help or guidance. And yet I am like you, I am not one of these people who says, “Oh yes, I DEFINITELY believe in reincarnation, or this or that, or the presence of spirits that are guiding me….AND YET…YET….YET….

    I’ve had many many amazing experiences that speak of ALL these things. So with this type of experience I now just let them be and keep an open mind. I have no need to categorize or define or make something DEFINITE. I am very comfortable letting myself feel what I feel or hear what I hear and enjoy it for whatever pleasure, warmth, insight or wisdom it imparts and that is enough. I know you understand.

    I have both Irish and English in me and although I’ve done much travel I’ve yet to see either country. I would love to go to both countries in search of my ancestors. : ) : )

    As always, henry, this is a beautifully written post, full of your heart and wisdom. Very warm and hopeful. Just you. I really like it.


  4. Comment by Liara Covert on September 11, 2008 5:09 am

    I love how this site speaks to readers–very clever technique! Your post relates to a view I have about cab drivers. I still believe it would be a very worthwhile exercise for every person to experience being a cab driver, in a big city or a foreign place, at some point during a lifetime. The reason is not only the survival skills a person develops in such a role, but also the invaluable insight into culture and belief systems.

    When it comes to talking pictures, I can relate to that as well. Of course, I appreciate characters in Harry Potter novels, but there have also been real-world experiences in this lifetime. You need not actually see the eyes of a painting move to sense the soul of the person it represents. Spirit communicate with us in mysterious ways that defy explanation. Everyone is chosen, but few decide to open themselves up to the opportunity.

    The diversity and substance of your blogs is remarkable. As you explore perrception of time and space, you are rediscovering facets of yourself on your terms. All of the changes originate in how you feel about yourself at this moment.

  5. Comment by Janet on September 12, 2008 11:40 pm

    Hi Henry,
    This is a great post. Once again your writing skills make me feel like I am there. When read stories like yours and have lived some of my own. I can’t help but believe their are spirits among us. When my mother in law died this year, the next morning her son was driving to work. A truck passed him that said Miss Elsie on it. That was her name. He has never seen a truck like that before or since. He was working in the boston area as well that day. He found a wallet with a license in it. The address of the licensed person was the same street as his mother’s, many miles away. The night of her wake at the end of it a smoke alarm went off for no reason. Elsie worked most of her life building smoke alarms and testing them. Doesn’t take much to convince me!! I can see you have been very busy. Thanks for taking the time to comment on my blog. I really appreciate it.
    Take Care, talk to you soon,
    Janet :)

  6. Comment by Lilly on September 16, 2008 2:05 am


    I loved this post - tell me do you still not believe in spirits? How amazing that the cab driver and the builder both knew Michael. What a figure he must have been - I love the dancing story. Coincidence?

    I love Ireland. My grandmother came from Belfast. What a history they have too! And lots of suffering in recent times that must be still etched on their memories.

    Henry, you are such a gifted writer and no matter how long or short your posts are I am always glued to every word because you take the reader on a journey, often a quite unexpected one. Your posts are like one of your shows - you never know what is coming next! You choreograph words as well my friend! Very well indeed.

    Your writing is always entertaining, orginal, very creative and thought provoking. A book Henry that’s the message. With all the travelling you do surely there would even be newspaper that would love someone to write about the different places you visit. You also have a great sense of humour and you make me smile.

    You are just a good soul and its probably a good thing you dont get to go to your regular church much given all these messages. It ould prove unsettling maybe. But if you are getting told the same thing numerous times there has to be something in it, right???? Throw your hands up in the air and go with the flow, maybe its all meant to be. Keep dancing Henry!!

    Lots of love to you and keep safe in your travels.


  7. Comment by Liara Covert on September 19, 2008 1:47 pm

    As I re-read this post, I find it remarkable on how many levels I resonate with the story and also with comments from other readers. This helps me redefine the idea of ’small world.’ We really are interconnected energy beings on levels which defy the human imagination.

  8. Comment by soulMerlin on September 19, 2008 2:25 pm

    “We really are interconnected energy beings on levels which defy the human imagination”

    Dear Liara ~ It’s stunning and very re-assuring…you see, at exactly the same time as you sent your latest comment, I was looking out of the window (it’s a sunny day) and you came into my mind and I thought how I was due to visit you again.

    It’s been a hectic week and most of the time with no internet access, but I’ll be able to get on tonight and I’ll visit and catch up with you….but what makes me smile and feel so good, is that your activity transmitted to me and made me think of you.

    Ok ok…Doubting Thomas inside of me bleats ‘co-incidence’ but really that is streaching things a bit far…yes we “really are interconnected energy beings”

    that’s put a smile on my face that will last the day.



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