The magic lantern, a form of slide projector, has been entertaining audiences since the 1600s. Many organisations and groups used lantern shows to both entertain and educate audiences, and the slides were often accompanied by a lecture, story or music. New forms of illumination increased the lantern’s popularity as time went on – limelight and kerosene in the nineteenth century, and by the early twentieth century, electricity. These developments increased the effectiveness and safety of projection, widening the range of individuals and locations these shows could reach. National Museums NI holds thousands of lantern slides, many of which are digitised, relating to a wide range of topics.
Early lantern slides were large, commonly taking the form of a panoramic strip, with a mahogany frame. This changed when magic lanterns began to be produced with a fixed mahogany frame. Standard slides, which measured 3 ¼ by 3 ¼ inches, were then protected from being scraped with a glass cover, which was bound in place with gummed tape; this is the form most slides in National Museums NI’s collections take. Here are just some examples of slide series held in the collections, mainly dating from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when the shows were at the height of their popularity.
 About magic lanterns
 Derek Greenacre, Magic Lanterns (Buckinghamshire, 1986), p. 21
‘Illustrated History of the Union Jack’
Mahogany lantern slide viewer
‘Evolution of the Irish Car’
This series entitled ‘Evolution of the Irish Car’ comprises of ten slides, all attributed to the photographer Robert John Welch. It begins with a slide of a woman walking, carrying turf in a wicker creel, and finishes with a slide of a side-car with rubber wheels, taken in 1902.
‘The Calculating Cobbler’
‘The Calculating Cobbler’ is a lantern show comprising of 12 lithographic coloured slides, measuring the standard 3 ¼ square inches. Based on a story by Ellen Moorehouse, these slides were part of a penny popular series produced by Jarrolds’ of London. It is a classic temperance tale which begins with the cobbler calculating how much drink he can buy with his wages. These slides, which would have been sold with accompanying notes for narration, show the cobbler changing his ways. Initially presented as lacking as a businessman, husband and father, the cobbler’s sobriety brings him a happy home life and successful business. By the end of the tale, he is even able to convert the local publican to take up the temperance cause and drain his barrels. The Tyrone Courier reported that this lantern series was displayed, along with a number of others at Strongmore school house in 1898.
 Tyrone Courier, 3 Nov. 1898
‘The Celtic Church in Ireland’
Many lantern shows reflect the interests of middle-class audiences from the time. A number of slides relate to ‘The Celtic Church in Ireland’, which appears to have been a popular subject for local photographers. They show historic church sites, or places of religious significance. One slide of a hand painted photograph, for instance, shows Cranfield Holy Well, a type of well that was believed to have healing properties. The rags tied around the tree above the well are taken from the clothing of the sick, as the site was believed to cure various illnesses and ailments.
 Holy wells: Mapping Ireland's hidden heritage
‘Illustrated History of the Union Jack’
This series comprises of six hand painted slides, illustrating the different components of the Union Jack. It has slides showing the flag of St. George for England, the flag of St. Andrew for Scotland, and the flag of St. Patrick for Ireland. It also shows ‘The Jack’, a flag comprising of that of England and Scotland, before the addition of the St. Patrick’s cross.
There is a series of five slides featuring hand painted photographic images. They depict homemade toys said to be made by ‘peasants’. The animals featured include a dog, a pig, a mouse, a fowl and an owl made from shells, pine cones, teasel heads and clay.
‘Irish Country Life’
The images in this series were taken by Photographer W.A Green (1870-1958) who had a personal interest in recording ‘old rural craft methods and social customs’. These images incidentally record objects and furnishings in homes, like that showing a family gathered round a table. Many in this series were taken in Toome, Country Antrim. While delivering a talk to Belfast Naturalists’ Field Club in 1921, Green revealed he once stayed a fortnight in Toome, recording several old methods used in the country for the manipulation of flax. He stated, ‘most of the people engaged in these primitive operations are since dead, and as they appear to be the last to use them, I think they are now obsolete’.
 W.A. Maguire, A Century in focus: photography and photographers in the north of Ireland 1839-1939 (Belfast 2000), p.115.
‘History of Shipbuilding’
‘History of Shipbuilding’ is a lengthy series, comprising of over 50 lantern slides. It charts the history of an industry synonymous with Belfast. The slides range from early nineteenth century engravings and plans, to twentieth century photographs of the docks and impressive vessels. These slides would have been to both celebrate the city’s shipbuilding prowess and educate and inform individuals of the industry’s history in the city.
‘The Linen Industry, Ireland’
In the late nineteenth century, Belfast’s booming linen industry led to it being known as ‘Linenopolis’. Linen goods and their production were popular subjects for commercial photographers in the North of Ireland, including R.J. Welch, A.R. Hogg and W.A. Green, whose collections are held by National Museums NI. Many of these images were also turned into lantern slides, presumably to celebrate and promote the industry, and to educate and instruct individuals about its history.
 Edwin Aiken & Stepehen Royle, ‘Markets and messages: Linenopolis meets the world’ in Olwen Purdue ed. Belfast: The emerging city 1840-1914 (Dublin, 2013), p. 2.
‘History of Belfast’
A number of lantern slides in the collection relate to George Benn's ‘A History of the town of Belfast from the earliest times to the close of the eighteenth century’. First published in London and Belfast in 1877, it contains maps and illustrations among its 778 printed pages. These include an engraving of First Presbyterian Church in Belfast, 1783 and a plan of Belfast from 1685, shown below.
 George Benn
‘The Holy City’
‘The Holy City’ was the million-seller song of 1892 and one of the most commercially successful songs of the early twentieth century. This lantern series of the same name is a visual representation of its lyrics. ‘The Holy City’ lantern display would have been accompanied by a pianist and a singer, performing the popular song alongside these illustrative projections. Lyrics included the lines ‘Last night I lay asleeping, there came a dream so fair; I stood in old Jerusalem, Beside the Temple there’. These slides show a woman sleeping on a chair, and these unusual hand images clearly endeavour to channel dream-like imagery.
 Holy City and Jack the Ripper
This series of 77 lantern slides was rediscovered in 2013 in Alexandra Presbyterian Church, Belfast, which is made up of two congregations, York Street and Castleton Presbyterian Churches. The slides show images of soldiers and sailors in First World War uniforms. These slides were taken by Belfast photographer Alexander Hogg, at the request of Castleton Church in 1918 and made from pre-existing photographs, of ‘our men at the front’. Some of the men photographed returned from war, while others did not.
 For more information see Castleton Lanterns