Film Archive Charts Century of Rural Life

BFI launch wealth of illuminating footage giving insight into forgotten activities, traditions and trades of Northern Ireland's colourful countryside

Building bloody bridge in Newcastle filmed by NITB, courtesy of NI Screen from BFI Britain on Film

The BFI has launched Rural Life, the release online of a century's worth of film footage charting the changing countryside across Britain, including Northern Ireland. Over 750 films shot between 1990 and 1999, many unseen since first shown, give a rich historical insight into the way we lived, highlighting activities, traditions and trades which have either survived or since disappeared.

From colourful films about life on a farm to leisure pursuits, crafts and travelogues aimed at potential tourists, the archive form part of the Britain on Film project that reveals hidden histories and forgotten stories of people and places from every corner of Great Britain, available for free on BFI Player via an interactive map. The films will also be visiting over 125 locations around the country for special screenings and events.

Many of the films were made by the Northern Ireland Tourist Board (now Tourism NI) at a challenging time for the industry in the '70s and '80s. Resilient staff adapted creatively to the uphill struggle to find ways and places where they could responsibly encourage tourists to visit, forgoing the bigger cities and concentrating instead on our picturesque landscapes, earning the nickname the ‘Fermanagh Tourist Board’.

Films including Song of Ulster and The Quiet Land portray idyllic scenes of a sun-dappled Lough Erne and competitive fishing, as well as sheepdog trials in the Glens of Antrim, and a young Gloria Hunniford entertaining guests in the Slieve Donard Hotel. You may even recognise the voice of veteran broadcaster Walter Love as he articulates the sheer beauty of the Mountains of Mourne.

There is much to be intrigued by amongst the collection of Ballyclare filmmaker Archie Reid, from intimate portraits of Antrim including footage of his home town’s May Fair in 1960 to the truly bizarre Sodom and Begorrah, the adventures of a priest who finds his new parish in the grip of the most blatant depravity.

Sodom and Begorrah by Archie Reid, starring Rowel Friers, courtesy of NI Screen from BFI Britain on Film available at player.bfi_.org_.uk_.jpg

Sodom and Begorrah by Archie Reid, starring Rowel Friers, courtesy of NI Screen from BFI Britain on Film

Robin Baker, Head Curator, BFI National Archive said, 'These films offer an unrivalled record of our rural heritage in all its richness across the 20th century. It’s an immersive experience to watch them, and often deeply moving. People who live and work in the countryside will be fascinated to see how their forbears used to live.

'Like many other city dwellers, I was born and bred in the countryside, and this collection of films offers all of us an extraordinary and very real social history of the British countryside. It’s a very potent portrait of an often neglected cornerstone of our national life.'

Richard Williams, Chief Executive of Northern Ireland Screen added: 'Thanks to the advances in technology, archive material can now by enjoyed by everyone. Our Digital Film Archive team has worked closely with partners including National Museums Northern Ireland and UTV to make accessible for the first time in a long time so much illuminating footage.

'UTV’s reports are a treasure trove of the eccentric and strange aspects of Northern Ireland’s people and history. By Tradition captured a glimpse of our farming past for a 1966 television audience, and Lesley Dawes investigates the curious Pub with No Beer run by the Armagh Pioneers.'

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 as a colourful and nostalgic treat. Browse the Rural Life film archive now at