Ballyclare May Fair magic lantern slides

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Ballyclare is a small market town between Belfast and Larne in Northern Ireland which holds an annual street fair. The May Fair was traditionally a horse trading and hiring fair, where employers hired farm labourers and domestic servants. In 1888, a series of remarkable photographs was taken of the May Fair and were transferred to glass, magic lantern, projection slides. I bought them as part of large collection over twenty years ago.

It isn’t known who took the photographs but they show people travelling to the Fair, swing boats, a merry-go-round, street entertainers, public dentistry and gypsies there for the horse trading. I made contact with a local historian, who kindly provided information to form the basis of a script to accompany the photos and, with slides and a narrative, I was able to bring the story to life as a magic lantern show.

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Last year, with his widow’s kind permission, I published a booklet of the slides and script, which is now available from Amazon.

This skilled but anonymous photographer (probably an amateur) taking snapshots in Victorian Ireland, could never have imagined in his most fanciful dreams that they would be available worldwide, at the touch of a button, one hundred and forty years later! At the time, he might have simply been pursuing his hobby and instead of printing them on paper for his album, he chose to transfer them to glass, magic lantern slides, thereby capturing his images in a more durable, high resolution format. The chances of his slides surviving were, of course, very low, as millions of them were thrown away when they became old-fashioned between the two world wars but somehow they did survive, enabling us to share the excitement, the thrills, the gambling and, indeed, the poverty of visitors to the Ballyclare May Fair in 1888.

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