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A unique picture of days long gone by featuring a young Gloria Hunniford... and a village plagued by sex and violence

Ivan Little takes a fascinating peek at a treasure trove of footage showing moments from Ulster's past that is now available to watch on the internet

Published 22/06/2016

Gloria Hunniford sings
Gloria Hunniford sings
A man working on a walking stick in a scene from Richer and Rarer by Lord Wakehurst
Land of Ulster 1950 by the Central Office of Information, made for the Festival of Britain 1951
Richer and Rarer filmed by Lord Wakehurst
Beauty to Last filmed by NITB Tollymore Forest
Sodom and Begorrah by Archie Reid, 1967
County Antrim, Circuit of Ireland by Archie Reid
Spade and Scutch Mill filmed by UTV in Cultra
Rowel Friers in Sodom and Begorrah by Archie Reid
The Maze Races by NITB
Benson and Hedges Fishing Festival in Fermanagh
Skating on Lough Neagh by UTV
The Dry Village by UTV reporter James Boyce

A collection of remarkable films offering long-forgotten glimpses into the way everyday life used to be in Northern Ireland have been unearthed from archives for online viewers to marvel at the hidden gems from the past.

The footage, which has been released by the British Film Institute (BFI), ranges from a clip of a young Gloria Hunniford as an emerging singer, to the opening of a pub with no beer in Co Armagh and sporting treasures including the Ulster Grand Prix.

The stunning films are part of the second phase of a digital archive project launched by the BFI last summer. By the time scheme finishes next year, it will have made more than 10,000 film clips, documentaries, newsreels and home movies recorded from 1900 to 1999 available to the public.

Last year, the curtain went up on the BFI's Britain on Film series, with footage of historical events like the visit of Winston Churchill to Belfast more than 100 years ago, when he spoke in favour of Home Rule and, in contrast, a film of Sir Edward Carson drilling UVF men in Larne.

The new footage centres on rural life across Northern Ireland in archive material released from the vaults by tourist chiefs, UTV and independent film-makers such as the renowned Archie Reid, who captured all aspects of life in Ballyclare.

The clips are among more than 750 films from across the UK which are now just a mouse click away for internet users. Much of the material, which is largely free to access, has never been seen since it was first shown.

The films chart the changing countryside and rural life in Northern Ireland, highlighting activities, pursuits and traditions that still survive today, along with customs, trades and skills that have disappeared.

"There's a wealth of footage about the people and landscapes that gives a rich historical insight into the way we lived. There are colourful films about life on a farm and old trades and crafts, as well as in-depth looks at leisure pursuits - plus travelogues aimed at potential tourists," says a BFI spokesman.

The Northern Ireland Tourist Board provided the travelogues, many of which were made at the height of the Troubles in the 1970s and 1980s, when staff struggled to find places which they could responsibly encourage tourists to visit.

Their options were obviously limited because of the bombings and shootings in towns and cities across the province, so instead the producers concentrated on trying to show quieter retreats, including Lough Erne, in all their splendour.

And everything from fishing tournaments to sheepdog trials were also highlighted to portray a more positive side to Northern Ireland during its darkest times.

And that is where Gloria Hunniford comes in. She is featured entertaining guests as a youthful singer in the Slieve Donard Hotel in Newcastle, while veteran BBC presenter Walter Love is featured extolling the beauty of the Mountains of Mournes. The Belfast Telegraph's late cartoonist, Rowel Friars, is seen in very different guises, playing the parts of an angel, priest and devil in a film called Sodom and Begorrah, which he made along with Archie Reid and Rex Thompson.

The bizarre production tells the tale of a bewildered priest who finds himself in a new parish called Ballybegorrah, which is riddled with all sorts of depravity and sin, including widespread sex and violence.

Richard Williams, chief executive of Northern Ireland Screen, whose digital archive includes more than 100 hours of film from 1897 to 2014, says that the new footage is a colourful and nostalgic treat.

He adds: "No one can fail to be moved by the rich and rare discovery of a world almost lost to living memory, but which survives on film."

The head curator of the BFI national archive, Robin Baker, describes the footage as a potent portrait of an often neglected cornerstone of the UK's national life.

"These films offer an unrivalled record of our rural heritage in all its richness. It's an immersive experience to watch them," he adds.

The latest releases bring to 5,000 the number of films which are now available on the internet, and the BFI says that more than six million people have already visited their website to view the footage, which is already online.

Belfast Telegraph

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