Mould-infested ads to be restored by Irish Film Institute

Archivists have received funds to clean and digitise a long-held collection of vintage commercials

More than 2,000 damp and mould-infested advertisements made for Irish screens from the 1960s to the 1980s are set to be restored following the Irish Film Institute’s receipt of almost €290,000 in funding from the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland.

The Irish Film Archive, which is part of the IFI, applied to the BAI's archiving scheme to work on the collection of advertisements made by a number of Irish advertising agencies, many of whom have since closed down.

The advertisements were originally produced on 35mm film and then later transferred to tape for transmission on RTÉ.

They were then held in damp warehouses for decades and as a result of the poor storage conditions suffered physical deterioration and contracted a mould infestation.


The IFI acquired the collection in the mid-1990s when the warehouse company closed down.

“At that point, it had no home,” says Kasandra O’Connell, the head of the IFI Irish Film Archive. The collection, a mix of 35mm film and some obsolete tape formats, is now held in about 200 boxes in an external storage unit in Dublin. “Because of the mould and the damp, we had to isolate them from the rest of our collection,” she says.

The funding will allow any mould-damaged film to be sent to the UK for special treatment before it is preserved and digitised.

“We will go through every single can and make an assessment,” says O’Connell.

The ads were made by agencies including Wilson Hartnell, Arks Advertising, Tiernan MacBride, Birchall Advertising, Hunters and Arks during the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, with the material including well-known campaigns for indigenous products such as Harp's "Sally O'Brien and the way she might look at you".

It also includes ads for international brands such as Cadbury, Coca-Cola and Ford targeted at the Irish market, national campaigns for drink-driving awareness and fire safety, and promotional films for state companies such as the Irish Hospital Sweepstakes, Telecom Éireann and CIÉ.

Other brands that feature in the clips include Players cigarettes, Calor Gas, Sudocrem, Tayto, Avonmore and Dulux.

The IFI describes the material as “a rich treasure trove of national memory and cultural artefacts”.

The largest part of the collection – some 70 boxes – comes from Wilson Hartnell, which was founded in 1879 on Dame Street in Dublin, and is now a public relations firm. In its advertising heyday, it made campaigns for Nestlé, Maxwell House, Findus, Knorr and Odlums.

The IFI was one of 10 recipients sharing a total of €2.26 million from the second round of the BAI’s archiving scheme, which is funded by the authority’s share of the television licence fee.

Recent acquisitions by the archive include a collection of “charming” 1970s campaigns for alcohol brands such as Babycham, Woodpecker Cider and Martini, as well as a “mouth-watering” collection of 35mm advertisements for Lemon’s Sweets that was originally salvaged by a former employee from a skip on the day that its factory closed.

Laura Slattery

Laura Slattery

Laura Slattery is an Irish Times journalist writing about media, advertising and other business topics