Rare lantern slides and an appeal to identify a 19th century Irish photographer

Published 01 June 2013  |  
(Photo: RCB Library)
Pictures from the Killaloe archive

Last year, via the 'Archive of the Month' medium, the RCB Library in Dublin began to tell the story of the 'Killaloe' lantern slide collection recovered from the deanery in Killaloe, County Clare, that revealed examples of the work of a skilled and widely-travelled photographer, covering his journeys to Palestine and north India at least 100 years ago.

Twelve months on, and the search for the elusive photographer is nearing completion, thanks to a lead from a BBC journalist about a possible link to a Presbyterian minister from Coleraine, County Londonderry, the Reverend Willie Wilson, and subsequent assistance from that man's descendants and an avid local historian in the village of Donaghmore, County Tyrone.

The results of further research undertaken by the Library has now uncovered a fascinating web of possible connections between a Presbyterian family with roots in Coleraine and Donaghmore, who also undertook worldwide travel to places link India, China and Palestine, in an age before it was fashionable or easy, and had the means to pursue innovative hobbies such as photography to capture their movements.

The full updated story is now told online and visually brought to life with images from three additional groups of lantern slides from the 'Killaloe' collection, as follows:

People, mostly as yet unidentified but all highly personal images revealing that the subjects were close to the photographer – perhaps members of his family, friends, or people from his wider local community. This section also includes two images of a photographer at work – one with camera and one with lantern slide projector.

Places in Ireland and elsewhere, some identified including the village of Newport and Borrishoole Friary, both in County Mayo; Belfast Harbour; Ballyclare, County Antrim; Coleraine, County Londonderry; and also Venice, while others as yet remain unidentified.

A rare, possibly unique set of 28 images from the Irish International Exhibition held in Dublin in 1907 to promote Irish handcraft and manufactured merchandise – most of which are not available elsewhere and do not form part of the official published record of that event.

Now, probably for the first time since they were processed and shown to the photographer's fascinated contemporaries, digital technology makes it possible to share these sometimes haunting and atmospheric images of times gone by with a worldwide audience.

Viewers are invited to visit the three slide show presentations – of people, places and the Dublin Exhibition – to see if they can further identify some of the as yet unidentified locations and people, and help us to draw the story to a conclusive end by confirming that the photographer of these wonderful images was in fact David Brown, soap and candle manufacturer, and director of the Donaghmore Soap Works.

Brown was a brother in-law of and travelled with the Reverend Willie Wilson on an adventurous trip to Palestine and Damascus in 1897, and later exhibited his company's merchandise at the Dublin Exhibition at the 'Irish Village', which he and another brother-in-law, Harry Wilson, had designed not only to show-off their soaps and shaving creams, but also to promote other Irish-produced goods at the industrial fair held in Dublin in 1907, and subsequently at the Imperial International Exhibition held in London in 1909, and elsewhere in Europe until the outbreak of the First World War in 1914.

To see the archive visit http://www.ireland.anglican.org/library/archive

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