Riches of Clare: Coining Things

Clare Champion, Friday, June 27, 2003

TThe Riches of Clare exhibition at the local authority-run Clare Museum charts the county’s history. In this article, Tomás Mac Conmara writes about a discovery in Drumquin in 1982.

In 1982 Johnny O’Brien, a farmer from Drumquin, Ballyea, Ennis was removing a rock from under a whitethorn bush, when he found a hoard of twenty-eight James II half crowns lying on the ground in an area about four inches square. Whether these coins were lost centuries before by some unfortunate person, or intentionally hidden and then forgotten about, we shall never know, but it is thought that these coins may have been stored in a bag that later decayed and subsequently exposed the collection.

All the coins bear the head of King James II on their obverse, along with the inscription Jacobus II Dei Gratia. On the reverse, the crown is featured with crossed sceptres flanked by the letters J and R, short for Jacobus Rex, or King James. James II coins were minted in Ireland between the years 1689 and 1691 during the period of the Jacobite Wars, or the Williamite Wars as the conflict is sometimes called. These coins (or in reality tokens) were in effect monetary pledges in base metal, which were to be exchanged for sterling silver when James retook the English throne.

James, Duke of York, succeeded his brother Charles to the throne of England after Charles had died with no legitimate heir to the throne. James II was inaugurated as King of England in 1685. He had converted to Catholicism, which infuriated his Protestant subjects. When he had a son, which promised a Roman Catholic succession, the situation became intolerable for his opponents, and they immediately invited the Protestant William of Orange to become their King.

William of Orange, who was ironically married to the James II daughter Mary, arrived in Torbay on 5 November, 1688 and immediately advanced on London. The King had no choice but to flee to France with his family. England and Wales pledged allegiance to William but James retained support in parts of Scotland and in most of Ireland. James landed in Ireland in March of 1689 intent on using it as a base to recover the throne of England. Faced with an imminent war, one of the most crucial problems facing James was a lack of funds to support his army.

He quickly established mints at Dublin and Limerick and issued a token coinage consisting initially of crowns, halfcrowns, shillings and sixpence. The coins were struck with a plug of brass in order to help differentiate them from counterfeit money. The total worth of the coins produced is said to have been in the region of £1,100,000.

Gunmoney struck between March 1689 and late 1691 bore not only the year but also the month of manufacture. The month placed on the coins indicated how long the coin had been held and how much it could be redeemed for. It should be noted, that the calendar in use at the time was called “Old Style” or OS. According to this calendar, the New Year started on March 26th. Thus the tokens struck in March 1689 were actually struck in the same month in 1690. This is not the only confusion to arise from the Jacobite Wars over March(e)s!

The term Gunmoney originates from the use of obsolete field canons in the production of the coins. However other implements including bells, cooking pots, pans and scrap provided the bulk of the bullion. The use of these domestic utensils led to the term “brassmoney” which was the dominant and more accurate description of the coins in Ireland at the time.

The coins seen here are part of the Drumquin horde, and are examples of a smaller product that superseded a larger one of similar design. The production of smaller coins was a direct result of a shortage of material for minting. Denominations minted in Dublin between the months of May and July 1690 invariably were not dated by month. Given the fact that the months May and June 1690 are inscribed on the coins shown here leads us to the conclusion that they were probably manufactured in Limerick prior to the Battle of the Boyne.

William invaded and defeated James II who fled to France after the Battle of the Boyne. He immediately seized the mint in Dublin and halted production of the coins soon afterward in late July 1690. Two years later the Capel Street establishment resumed the striking of copper but this time in the names of William and Mary.

In Limerick, which was the last city to fall to the Williamite forces, the mint there continued to produce gunmoney until late 1691. However, the military defeat of the Jacobites under Patrick Sarsfield inevitably brought about their discredit and their formal demonetization by a proclamation of February 1692.
As a result of the unprecedented levels of production of the coins they are relatively common today.

Two of these coins are on display in the Power section of the Riches of Clare exhibition. They are still very important from a historical perspective, bringing us back to events that would have ramifications long after these coins outlived their usefulness.

View James II Gunmoney from the Riches of Clare Exhibition

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