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Irish coinage

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Title: Irish coinage  
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Subject: Harp, Éire, Decimal Day, 1928 in Ireland
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Irish coinage

The Irish Free State decided soon after its foundation in the 1920s to design its own coins and banknotes. It was decided that the Irish currency would be pegged to the pound sterling. The Coinage Act, 1926[1] was passed as a legislative basis for the minting of coins for the state and these new coins commenced circulation on 12 December 1928.


The first coins minted in Ireland were produced in about 995 AD in Dublin for King Sitric, the Hiberno-Norse King of Dublin. These penny coins bore the head and name of the king and the word Dyflin for Dublin. John of England was among the first Anglo-Norman monarchs to mint coins in Ireland; these were farthings, halfpennies and pennies. It was not until the reign of Henry VIII that Irish coins bore the harp and, later in Henry's reign, the year. In the following centuries gold, silver and copper coins were issued, and at one time, metal from melted-down gun barrels was used; this was called "gun money". Coins issued in the 18th and 19th centuries often included the word Hibernia on the harp side. The last Irish coins issued prior to independence were during the reign of George IV, in 1823. Irish coins were withdrawn in 1826 following the full political union of Ireland and Britain in the 1800 Act of Union. Occasional "fantasy" coins were minted in the next century but these were neither circulated nor legal tender.

When the Irish Free State introduced new coins and notes after independence, it was decided that these would remain pegged to the pound sterling. The decision was mainly for economic reasons because, in 1924, 98% of Irish exports went to Great Britain and Northern Ireland, while 80% of imports were from those territories. Additionally, the stability and backing of the pound sterling reassured the government that the new currency was on a firm foundation and did not weaken efforts to rebuild the country socially and economically, which was the government's first commitment.

As is common with numismatic terminology the side of the seal of the state is termed the "obverse"; this is often called the common side; the "reverse" is the side with the denomination specific design.

Coins are issued by the central bank which acts as an agent of the Minister for Finance.

The pound

Pre-decimal coins

In the early 1920s, the Irish government created a committee headed by Senator W. B. Yeats to determine designs suitable for the coins. The committee members were Thomas Bodkin, Dermot O'Brien, Lucius O'Callaghan and Barry Egan.

Some decisions were made at the outset. The harp was to be on most if not all coins, and all lettering would be in Irish. The committee decided that people associated with "the present time" should not feature in any designs, no doubt due to the political divisions which had led to the Irish Civil War. They decided later that religious or cultural themes should be avoided in case coins became relics or medals. Agriculture was essential to the economy of Ireland and this theme was chosen for the coins, which used designs featuring animals and birds.

Finally, the harp and the words "Saorstát Éireann" were chosen for the obverse side of coins. Images of animals and birds were presented to the chosen artists to design the reverse and they were also given pictures of the Galway harp and Trinity College harp for guidance. Later, the Minister for Finance decided that the value of the coins should be written in numerals as well as in words, and he suggested using plants; this latter suggestion was rejected because the competition was at an advanced stage and due to the difficulty of obtaining good facsimiles of plants.

Three Irish artists Jerome Connor, Albert Power and Oliver Sheppard were chosen, and also the foreign artists Paul Manship (American), Percy Metcalfe (English) Carl Milles (Swedish) and Publio Morbiducci (Italian); a number of other artists were invited but did not take part. Each artist was paid and allowed to produce designs in plaster or metal, with a prize for the winner. Identifying marks were removed from the designs so the committee did not know whose designs were being judged. Percy Metcalfe's designs were chosen and design modifications were added with assistance from civil servants at the Department of Agriculture.

The first coins were struck in 1928 and were minted at the Royal Mint in London. In 1938, following the introduction of the Constitution of Ireland, the obverse of the coins was modified with the Irish language name of the State, "Éire", and the harp was also modified so that it wore better. The Central Bank Act, 1942 Section 58[2] allowed pure nickel to be substituted with a cupro-nickel alloy. The description of the state as the "Republic of Ireland" did not require any change in the name on coins issued after 1948. The Coinage Act, 1950[3] changed the law on coinage principally with the removal of silver from coins then in existence. The final piece of primary legislation for predecimal coins was the Coinage (Amendment) Act, 1966[4] which allowed for a ten shilling coin to be minted and circulated. The ten shilling was the only modern circulating Irish coin not to feature the harp, to incorporate edge lettering, and to depict an actual Irishman (Patrick Pearse), and to depict a political subject (Pearse was an Irish revolutionary and the edge lettering referred to the 1916 Easter Rising).

While many of the Irish coins are common, particularly in lower grades, there are some notable rarieties. Most of the 1943 Florins and half crowns were melted at the mint, and only small numbers were released. Only one and two speciments, respectively, are known of the 1938 penny and half crown.[5]

Summary: Pre-decimal coins
English name Irish name Numeral Reverse Introduction Withdrawal £1 Fraction
Farthing Feoirling ¼d Woodcock 12 December 1928 1 January 1962 1/960
Halfpenny Leath Phingin ½d Sow and litter 12 December 1928 1 August 1969 1/480
Penny Pingin 1d Hen and chickens 12 December 1928 1 January 1972 1/240
Threepence Leath Reul 3d Hare 12 December 1928 1 January 1972 1/80
Sixpence Reul 6d Wolfhound 12 December 1928 1 January 1972 1/40
Shilling Scilling 1s Bull 12 December 1928 1 January 1993 1/20
Florin Flóirín 2s Salmon 12 December 1928 1 June 1994 1/10
Half-Crown Leath Choróin 2s6d Horse 12 December 1928 1 January 1970 1/8
Ten Shilling Deich Scilling 10s Cú Chulainn 12 April 1966 10 February 2002 1/2

Decimal coins

Three new designs were created in bronze for the new decimal currency by the artist Gabriel Hayes, and were based upon manuscript designs of ornamental birds in Celtic knotwork style. The designs of Percy Metcalfe were retained for the new five and ten pence coins, taken from the shilling and florin, respectively. The new fifty pence piece bore the image of the woodcock from the old farthing. The designs were quite simple using only figures and symbols to indicate the value; this yielded ambiguity about whether the "P" on the coins meant penny or pingin (the Irish word for penny).

The rising expense of minting coins necessitated the introduction of the twenty pence coin in 1986; the halfpenny coin was withdrawn at this time as inflation had reduced its buying power. The introduction of the Irish pound coin required the Decimal Currency Act, 1990[6] and this law provided for certain other matters including the issue of European Currency Unit (ECU) coins which were specifically stated not to be legal tender in the legislation, instead intended as collectors items. These ECU coins were issued in 50 ECU, 10 ECU and 5 ECU denominations, in gold, silver and silver respectively. These coins used the Irish red deer design from the Irish pound coin with a mountain relief in the background and other notable differences such as the 12 stars of the European Flag surrounding the harp, quite similar to the Irish euro coins.

The coins issued under the Decimal Currency Acts were finally withdrawn from circulation in 2002 by the Irish Pound Coinage (Calling In) (No. 2) Order, 2001[7] which revoked an earlier similar order; the date was set for 10 February 2002.

Summary: Decimal coins
English name Irish name Numeral Diameter Thickness Reverse Introduction Withdrawal £1 Fraction
Halfpenny Leathphingin ½p 17.14 mm 1 mm Ornamental bird 15 February 1971 1 January 1985 1/200
Penny Pingin 1p 20.32 mm 1.65 mm (1.52mm before 1990) Ornamental bird 15 February 1971 10 February 2002 1/100
Two Pence Dhá Phingin 2p 25.91 mm 2.03 mm (1.85mm before 1990) Ornamental bird 15 February 1971 10 February 2002 1/50
Five Pence Cúig Phingin 5p 18.5 mm (23.59mm before 1993) Bull 8 September 1969 10 February 2002 1/20
Ten Pence Deich bPingin 10p 22.0 mm (28.5mm before 1993) Salmon 8 September 1969 10 February 2002 1/10
Twenty Pence Fiche Pingin 20p 27.1 mm Irish Hunter 30 October 1986 10 February 2002 1/5
Fifty Pence Caoga Pingin 50p 30.0 mm 3.15 mm Woodcock 17 February 1970 10 February 2002 1/2
One Pound Punt £1 31.11 mm 3.15 mm Red deer 20 June 1990 10 February 2002 1

The euro

Main article: Irish euro coins
The introduction of the euro was overseen by the Euro Changeover Board of Ireland which was a special agency created on May 5, 1998 by the Minister for Finance; this agency provided a wide variety of information including converters, training packs, images and public advertisements on a wide range of media to ensure a successful transfer. As with all eurozone countries, Ireland continued to mint her own coins after the currency changeover to the euro. One side of euro coins is common across the eurozone, it is the obverse which has a design unique to Ireland. Although some other countries used more than one design, or even a separate design for each of the eight coins (1c, 2c, 5c, 10c, 20c, 50c, €1 and €2), Ireland used only one design. A redesigned harp (superficially identical to that used on earlier coins) was used, having been designed by Jarlath Hayes. Some other eurozone members have unique lettering around the €2 coin. The edge on Irish €2 coins merely has the sequence "
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The first collectors' commemorative coin issued since the changeover was a €10 silver coin to mark the Special Olympics in 2003. This was struck in sterling .925 silver and hand finished to create a distinctive gold logo and harp. A €5 Coin was also produced. Since then a number of commemorative coins have been issued including one for the accession of the ten new European Union member states on 1 May 2004. One side of the €10 coin depicts a swan sitting on ten eggs, with the reverse depicting the harp and the names of all ten members in their native language. The first gold coin ever issued by the Central Bank was a €20 issued in 2006 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of Samuel Beckett. These commemorative coins are only legal tender in Ireland, and are not valid elsewhere in the Eurozone.

In 2007, Ireland issued a €2 coin for general circulation commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the Treaty of Rome. This is, to date, the only circulating commemorative €2 coin issued by Ireland.

All pre-euro Irish coins may be exchanged for their equivalent in euro any weekday morning at the Central Bank in Dublin.

See also



  • "Coinage of Saorstát Éireann", William Butler Yeats, The Stationery Office, Dublin, 1928.
  • "The Irish Coinage Designs", Thomas Bodkin DLitt, Metropolitan School of Art, Dublin, November 30, 1928.

External links

  • Central Bank - Notes and Coins
  • Irish coinage website - history, images and catalogue.
  • Coins From Ireland
  • Listings and photos of Irish coins
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