Images from the Past
Archie Reid reveals how a combination of ancient and modern technology uncovered a record of Ballyclare in the 19th century.
Andrew Gill, who lives in Lancashire, has for a number of years collected Victorian Magic Lantern slides, which he screens with authentic equipment to fascinated modern audiences.
He bought a set of slides which had the description “Ballyclare May Fair”. Since he had no knowledge of where Ballyclare was he used the contemporary source of all knowledge – the internet. Using a search facility he typed in Ballyclare and was taken to the website of our Historical Society. He clicked the email button and asked for information about the May Fair. I was able to give him enough information to allow him to write a commentary and present a show based on the slides.
For my part I wanted to know when the slides had been taken and what they contained. He sent me a sample image of the Square with farmers in Sunday suits and bowler hats, little boys with bare feet, the Market House before it became the Town Hall with a clock tower and the Cunningham Monument still standing. A careful examination of some wall posters revealed that the pictures dated from the mid-1880s.
By now I was keen to add them to our own library of local photographs. Andrew organised the transfer of the slides to 35mm negatives and soon I was scanning them into the computer. The quality varied from some that revealed their riches immediately to some that seemed just a grey blur. Using graphics software I was able to adjust the gamma range from light to shade, remove spots and scratches and even sharpen the images. The reward was to see the village and its people emerging as they had been captured more than a hundred years before. This treasure trove of images from the May Fair was only part of the collection. There were also pictures of Doagh and Ballynure, with hens pecking their way across the road. There were also images of children returning in procession from a Sunday school outing, men riding to hounds and even sitting in a railway carriage. Might there be more images waiting to be discovered?
Andrew returned to his source and found a few more slides including the most exciting of all. We knew that at the end of the 19th century a local inn keeper had created Baird’s Pleasure Garden, next to his premises and just across the street from Ollar Lodge. Descriptions of the attractions had always been fascinating but we did not dare to hope that a photograph existed. Now here was one clearly showing what we had read about.
The mystery was how did these slides of Ballyclare get to Lancashire. A clue may be found in one of Archibald McIlroy’s books “When Lint was in the Bell” published in 1903. His writings revolve around the village he called Craig-Linney but was in fact Ballyclare. His books were published at the turn of the century but he also gave lectures, first in Ireland and then when he lived in England. Writing about these lectures he comments, “So the following year I set to work and produced “Life and Love in an Ulster Village”, illustrated with a large number of views, some of them of a very quaint description.” I am sure we are now looking at his set of slides left behind when he sailed on the ill fated last voyage of the Lusitania.