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National Museums NI holds a wide range of historic photographs - almost 500,000 topographical, portrait and record images. Most are in black and white and kept in print and negative format. The collection dates from around 1870 and mostly relates to the northern parts of Ireland. Other regions are also covered, especially the west. They describe:

  • commercial and social life
  • industrial and economic activity
  • street scenes and townscapes
  • land, sea, air, and road transport
  • political and social events

The museum maintains a large collection of lantern slides—for use in magic lanterns, a 19th century forerunner of the slide projector - depicting social, economic, and industrial life in Ireland in the late 1800s and 1900s. We also hold a large photographic archive which includes copies of major collections held elsewhere, such as the Annesly, Young, and Langham collections.

The photographic collections also chart the development of photography itself. Our oldest photographs are daguerreotypes and calotypes from the dawn of the medium. We hold a collection of cameras, magic lanterns, and photographic equipment, dating from the 1850s onwards.