Riches of Clare: Pre-decimal Coins

Clare Champion, Friday, September 6, 2002

The Riches of Clare exhibition at the Clare Museum charts the county's history over 6,000 years using authentic artifacts. In the latest article examining the historical artifacts County Museum Curator John Rattigan writes about pre-decimal coins…

History tells us that coins were first minted Ireland by Sitric the Viking King of Dublin in the 9th Century. For many countries, the national currency is considered the symbol of that nation, and is one of the reasons why our nearest neighbours in the UK have opted out of adopting to the euro. Meanwhile in Ireland the advent of the Euro is not the first currency change over their lifetime, and many Clare people will remember the old shillings and pence with great fondness. It is interesting to look back on how this State adopted its own style of coins in the first place.

After the 1921 treaty when Ireland gained its independence from Britain, the government decided to maintain its link with sterling, a link which lasted until 1979 when Ireland joined the European Monetary Union. It was decided, however, to produce a new coinage for the new Irish Free State and in 1926 the government set up a coinage committee to be chaired by poet W B Yeats to suggest a suitable design for these new coins.

According to Michael Kenny of the National Museum of Ireland, after much debate the committee decided that the Irish harp would be used as the National Symbol on the flip side of the coins, as it had been previously, but this time without the crown. It had been suggested that the reverse side of the coins would carry images of christian saints, but it was thought the coins could be widely abused and used as religious medals. Instead, it was decided that, as Ireland was mainly a rural country, the coins would portray animals associated with the Irish Countryside.

Click image to view details in the Riches of Clare Exhibition

The denominations were half-crown, florin, shilling, sixpence, threepence, penny, halfpenny, and farthing. The reverses, in this order, showed a horse, salmon, bull, greyhound, hare, hen and chickens, pig and woodcock. A competition was organised and a number of well-known sculptors and coin designers were invited to submit patterns for the coinage to the committee. Entries came from Ireland, but also from as far afield as Italy, Yugoslavia, Sweden and the US. A prize was awarded to the winning artist, who turned out to be an Englishman, Percy Metcalf.

The new coinage was struck in 1928 and was of a high standard technically and artistically, remaining basically unchanged until 1971. The half-crown, florin and shilling were made of almost pure silver, the sixpence and threepence were nickel and the lower denominations were bronze. In 1939, Eire, replaced Saorstat Eireann on the reverse of the coins following the use of Eire in the 1937 constitution.

Pictured here are some pre-decimal Irish Coins that went out of existence with the advent of decimalisation in 1971. The coins pictured were donated to the collection at Clare Museum by Sonia Schorman, Ballyalla, Ennis.

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