British Film Institute’s hidden gems of north coast progammes

Morris dancers outside the Harbour Bar in Portrush.
Morris dancers outside the Harbour Bar in Portrush.

Morris dancing at the Harbour Bar in Portrush, the Bonamargy Ghost and the changing face of the Lammas Fair in Ballycastle are just some of the cinematic treasures which have been unearthed by the British Film Institute.

BFI has launched Britain on Film: Coast and Sea, an online collection of over 600 newly digitised films, ranging from 1898 to 2000, from the BFI National Archive and the UK’s national and regional film and TV archives, with content spanning the whole of the UK, available (mostly) for free on BFI Player via an interactive map.

Coast and Sea highlights in Northern Ireland include homesick university lecturers morris dancing, the strange world of local filmmakers the Spence Brothers, and a spiritual maritime adventure from the shores of Derry to Iona captured by two films which haven’t been seen in decades.

Britain on Film curators have again found extraordinary footage of ordinary people and places, to shed a fascinating insight into our shared cultural and social history on film. This treasure trove of rarely seen archive footage reveals the truly eclectic pastimes along Northern Ireland’s coastline over the last 60 years.

Morris Dancers at Portrush, filmed in 1977, discovers Northern Ireland’s only Morris Dancing Group, formed by homesick English lecturers from the University of Ulster in Coleraine. They began performing as a support act for the Chieftains, before going on to dance across Ireland, France and England.

Lammas Fair, 1964 captures many of the traditional facets of the festival, be it the multitude of stallholders selling their goods, or the general air of celebration conjured by musicians, dancers and people playing games.

In Bonamargy Ghost, these UTV news rushes tell tales of Julia McQuillan, a mysterious prophet and a recluse who chose to live alone among the ruins of Bonamargy after the Friary fell out of use in the 17th century. Some believe that Julia was murdered on the steps leading to the upper floor of the Friary, others say she fell off the thirteenth step and bad luck will befall anyone who sets one’s foot there.

Boating on the Bann (1960) takes a journey along the Bann, the longest river in Northern Ireland; Beauty to Last celebrates the National Trust’s spectacular coastal properties with panoramic views of the Northern Ireland coastline and Mussenden Temple sitting on its cliff edge; and join the Logan family to reminisce and you might find their holiday in Portrush leads to Many Happy Returns (1956). To start enjoying Coast and Sea footage, log on to player.bfi.org.uk/britain-on-film