Riches of Clare: Irish Decimal Coins Presentation Box

Clare Champion, Friday, January 17, 2003

The Riches of Clare exhibition at the local authority-run Clare Museum charts the county's history over 6,000 years using authentic artifacts. In this article, museum curator, John Rattigan, writes about a collection of coins donated by former president Dr Patrick Hillery…

Over the last two years, Clare Museum has received a large collection of objects presented to Dr Patrick Hillery during his political career. Most relate to his activities during his two presidential terms, but some date to before that period. For example, while Minister for External Affairs in 1971, Dr Hillery was presented with a commemorative set of new decimal coins from the Central Bank, during the last great currency changeover, 30 years before the introduction of the Euro.

In December 1921, following the signing of the Anglo-Irish treaty, the Irish Free State came into being. The country continued using British coins, however, until 1926 when a committee was set up, chaired by WB Yeats, to select a new design for the coins. A competition was held for artists to submit proposals within certain set guidelines for eight coins: Farthing, halfpenny, penny, three-pence, sixpence, shilling, florin, and half-crown. It was decided that obverse would carry the familiar harp, the symbol of Ireland, while the reverse would portray animals of the Irish countryside. Consequently, the designs of English artist, Percy Metcalf were selected.

However, in the late 1960s when Britain decided to adopt the less cumbersome decimal monetary system, Ireland too, decided to change. The new currency was introduced in February 1971, and many of the pre-decimal coins disappeared from use forever. However, as the shilling and florin were of equal value with the new five pence and ten pence coins, they were retained, while the woodcock design on the reverse of the farthing was continued on the new fifty pence piece.

The Irish artist and sculptor, Gabrielle Hayes, was selected to design three new coins. New halfpenny, penny, and two pence piece coins were designed as they did not correspond in value to any of the pre-decimal coinage. Typically, the three coins carried the harp on the obverse, but the reverse designs were different from the others, as they carried the inter-laced artwork inspired by medieval manuscripts, such as the Book of Kells.

The Central Bank, responsible for the commemorative set of coins, was formed in 1943 following the passing of the Central Bank Act 1942., and has its headquarters in Dame Street, Dublin. It replaced the Currency Commission, which had been responsible for issuing Irish coins and banknotes since 1927, and was in charge of minting coins in its Currency Centre, and then distributing them through the banking system. However, this is not the only function of the Central Bank, as it also acts as an agent for and banker to the Government. The Bank is statutorily responsible for the supervision of most financial institutions in Ireland, including banks, building societies, and reports annually to the Minister for Finance.

It is almost a year already since the Euro was introduced in Ireland. You can imagine the irony I felt when I opened the presentation box containing the shiny new 1971 decimal coins, just after they had been withdrawn from circulation forever.

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