Northern Ireland

Marble Arch Caves to become underground cinema for NI film archive

View from inside the Marble Arch Caves
Image caption The Marble Arch Caves will be turned into an underground cinema to showcase archive footage dating back to 1897

A digital film archive showing the quirky side of rural life is being showcased in an equally quirky venue.

The Marble Arch Caves in County Fermanagh is the setting for an unusual underground cinematic experience of footage from Northern Ireland Screen's Digital Film Archive.

It contains more than 100 hours of moving images of Northern Ireland dating back to 1897.

Sinead Bhreathnach-Cashell is part of the team that manages the archive.

'Rat racing'

She said: "We spent a year going through people's attics, going through museum store rooms and what we found was beautiful, bizarre footage and we thought, 'where better than the Marble Arch Caves to show that?'

Image caption Sinead Bhreathnach-Cashell said the archive footage uncovered from the public was both beautiful and bizarre

"We have great footage of rat racing in Crumlin where people are in a pub in Crumlin surrounded by drainpipes and people are cheating by racing gerbils against rats and things like that."


There are also films of haggis hurling in Ormeau Park and a "Buster Keaton-style" pram race through the streets of Londonderry.

The archive includes Land of Ulster footage of stone cutters in County Down in 1950, when hill farmers could "move mountains, even the Mournes".

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Media captionNI Screen releases archive footage of stone cutters in the Mourne mountains

"It's a real mix, like every day of my job," says Sinead.

"I love it because every day I'm going to see something different and it might be the most basic daily life tasks or it might be the most ridiculous thing."

Films will be shown in the caves accompanied by traditional Irish music performed by local musicians.


Omagh-born musician Phil Hession will perform a newly commissioned piece of music called 'Til They Came Unto A Cave' against a backdrop of archive film.

"It's spectacular. The acoustics are just completely unbelievable," Phil says.

"It's similar to singing in a church except, well, it's better.

Image caption Phil Hession said the caves provided better acoustics than a church

"In each space that you move through the acoustics change, the sound changes, so you get lots of echo to a much more intimate feel and it's just very, very special."


The cinematic and musical tour of the caves is part of the British Film Institute's (BFI) Britain on Film rural initiative but the underground venue has caused problems for the organisers after heavy rainfall flooded the caves.

The high water level prevented access for the technical crew and delayed the setting up of the projectors and screens.

Sinead is confident everything will be alright for the performance on Thursday and Friday night, but she plans to choose a less challenging venue in the future.

"I think next year when the BFI are going to celebrate coastal, and we're looking at venues across coastal towns, we'll maybe stay above the ground," she said.

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