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New book Old Ireland in Colour uses modern technology to give old photographs a new lease of life


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Historic: Sir Edward Carson signing the Ulster Covenant in Belfast City Hall

Historic: Sir Edward Carson signing the Ulster Covenant in Belfast City Hall

Old Ireland in Colour

Old Ireland in Colour

Historic: Sir Edward Carson signing the Ulster Covenant in Belfast City Hall

The true colour of Irish history has been brought to life with a new book revitalising pictures from the past.

From historical figures like Oscar Wilde, Edward Carson and Michael Collins to stunning photos of the Titanic and scenes of everyday life, Old Ireland in Colour has already become a number one best-seller in Ireland.

Compiled by Professor John Breslin and Dr Sarah-Anne Buckley from NUI Galway, the historic photos have been colourised with the help of Artificial Intelligence software.

Prof Breslin started the project after colourising a picture of his grandmother before building up a collection of images from across Ireland.

One stunning image shows the Titanic steaming out of Belfast on April 2 1912 - two weeks before it sank with the loss of over 1,500 lives.

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RMS Titanic leaves Belfast

RMS Titanic leaves Belfast

RMS Titanic leaves Belfast

Captured by an official photographer for Harland & Wolff, Robert Welch, the restored version seems like it could have been taken today.

Another shows a clown performing in Strabane as part of John Duffy's Circus in 1911.

Having continued in different formats over the years, Tom Duffy's circus is currently being run by Tom's son David with the family tradition stretching back to his great, great grandfather Patrick James Duffy in the 19th century.

More personal portraits showing everyday life include Forkhill man Frank 'Wings' Campbell in 1969, then aged 75, enjoying a bottle of Guinness with his walking stick perched beside him.

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Frank Campbell, aged 75, known popularly as ‘Wings’ Campbell, drinking Guinness

Frank Campbell, aged 75, known popularly as ‘Wings’ Campbell, drinking Guinness

Frank Campbell, aged 75, known popularly as ‘Wings’ Campbell, drinking Guinness

A staged picture of a woman baking inside Ballymena's Galgorm Castle in 1910 was inspired by Flemish art and taken by Mary Alice Young, one of the period's most prolific female photographers at the time.

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A woman baking in 1910 at Galgorm Castle

A woman baking in 1910 at Galgorm Castle

A woman baking in 1910 at Galgorm Castle

"I started colourising pictures of my grandmother by hand using Photoshop, starting out by tracing hair and clothes and it really took me a long time just to do one photograph," Prof Breslin told the Belfast Telegraph.

"I found new Artificial Intelligence software in 2018 which automatically colourises images in a matter of seconds.

"It does draw you in, we learn a lot of history through black and white images and books. But sometimes your eye misses things when a picture is in black and white.

"I found when I colourised the pictures I noticed new things, like a bottle of sherry or box of cigars in the background.

"So it helps you to time travel and see what life was like back then.

"A lot of people have told me with the pictures that it could have been taken yesterday, apart from the clothes."

He continued: "With things like the Titanic, some of the most interesting photos are actually the ones from inside. The cabins that people travelled in and so on it helps to give you the whole picture."

Welcoming the positive response to the book so far, Prof Breslin said he hoped it would help to spark conversations between different generations.

He added: "It can give older relatives a chance to share some of their own stories. I've been doing these pictures online for some time but there's something different about having the book in your hands.

"We have so many great photographs from Northern Ireland as well so it's been a great learning experience for me."

Belfast Telegraph


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