Long Beard's Blog

23 Oct 2020

Ancestral Coinage

Coins | Long Beard

Before getting to the topic of the week, I feel compelled to share my personally gratitude for those of you who read my blogs and those who reply. As most of you are aware, if not from out right saying as much, the passion I have for all things numismatic become clear in the weekly blogs I write. The numerous kind responses left attest to this. And for that I am truly appreciative and humbled to say the least. Often, I write of subjects which are not up to par, so to speak, and in hindsight that's not a bad thing. There's always a positive to a negative. If ever one feels compelled to correct me, or at times respond with criticism, feel free to air what's truly on your mind. Keep in mind that sarcasm will be graded though. In short, writing is not only a passion but a learning experience. You are the reason for which I do this. And now to this week's blog, the coinage of my island ancestors. Enjoy!

The history of Irish coinage is not a simple one. An inexplicable political climate and conflicting relationships over several centuries with English and European neighbors might best sum up why Ireland has never really had a currency of their own. As with any other country, the same perspective on it's history is translated through coinage. For Ireland, that becomes one of oppression, cultural diversity and international partnerships to name a few. While at times hinting of the egos of those in control as well as the hearts of those fighting for change.

While popular belief is that the vikings hammered out the first Irish coinage in the ninth century, this clearly becomes a debated subject being as they were a nomadic, sea faring people. Meaning, were they produced in Ireland or brought with them? If the latter, and most probable, this makes them of foreign origin.Which coincidentally, foreign coin and note has always circulated alongside that produced or struck within it's borders. A truth lost to history, the silver penny (based on a penny weight of silver) of Viking King Sihtric, circa 1000 a.d., are the earliest known coins found in Ireland. The first recordable coining on the island occurred in the twelfth century under English rule. Mints were set up in Carrickfergus, Downpatrick, Kilkenny, Limerick and Waterford to strike pennies and half-pennies for local commerce. While actually an English coin, bearing an effigy of the ruling monarch at the time, a weight difference distinguished them from English counterparts of the same design. The King John (1200-1205) and King Henry VIII (1251-1254) penny being the most prominently produced of the century. As shown in images one and two respectively.

The fourteenth century saw three devastating events in which no coinage would be minted in Ireland for well over one hundred and fifty years. The first came in 1315 and last two years, The Great Famine. With the population nearing pre-famine numbers and early stages of a stabilizing economy, The Black Death of 1347 began spreading across Europe and decimated any advances in Ireland by 1351. If things could not seem to get worse, the warm period in which the continent had been experiencing for the past century was coming to an end as the Little Ice Age began dramatically reducing temperatures. Many summers barely made it into the fifties. Winters were long, months on end below zero. Yet coin was still needed. For a century and a half people used whatever currency was available. A large portion of which were locally produced forgeries and widely circulated. The primary Irish produced coins in circulation were the penny and half-penny of Edward I produced until 1302, and despite a mintage of approximately 12 million, finding an example above a low very fine becomes challenging not to mention expensive.

Coin production in Ireland would resume once again in the late fifteenth century with local mints, the largest in Dublin, being reestablished under the rule of King Edward IV. As civilization and the economy advanced, multiple denominations became necessary to accommodate financial transactions. One such being the Groat, a silver four pence, which like previously struck coin, contained less silver than the English species to curb their flow out of Ireland. A reduction which continued over the next hundred years or so. The first coin to depict a harp reminiscent of Ireland appeared in the sixteenth century, a harp groat as shown in the third image.

Perhaps the most interesting coins produced in Ireland were those under James II. He was anointed King of England in 1685 at the age of 52, despite being Catholic in a country of predominately Protestant faith. His second marriage of eleven years leaving him without a male heir, a daughter from his first became the heir presumptive. This changed on June 10, 1688 with the birth of a son who now stood as next in line to the throne. Mary, the daughter and a devout Protestant, would not see a Catholic dynasty in control of England. Along with her Dutch husband, William III of Orange, quickly overthrew him in the coup Glorious Revolution. James, now exiled in Ireland, and his supporters began to reclaim the thrown in what became known as the Williamite War (1688-1694). To pay his troops, wars cost money, a series of coins were produced over two years, 1689 and 1690. These coins of various denominations were struck primarily of base metals and issued on the promise of exchange for silver with interest upon a victory. The source of metals came largely from cannons melted down, while church bells and other objects were known to used as well. Hence the creation of Gun Money, a name since associated with these coins. What real sets these apart from other Irish coinage is that they are dated by the month along with a corresponding year which facilitated easy payment of interest upon redemption. There are two issues of gun money. A large six pence and smaller shillings consisting of a shilling, half-crown and crown (five shillings). Of the base metals, pewter specimens are rarer with silver and gold produced for most months are extremely rare. A highly sought after, and prized piece to any collection, is the unique 1689 Groat which is considered a pattern.

Over the next two-hundred years, vast improvements in coining and metallurgy began to show by those struck in the late 1700's. The best struck of these came from the prestigious Royal Mint in London and shipped to Ireland. In 1800, the Act of Union attached Ireland to Britain, at a time when Irish currency was extremely poor comparative to the sterling pound. With a mixture of English and European circulating alongside it's locally struck coin of lesser value, the Bank of Ireland attempted to alleviate and stabilize it's currency by importing Spanish and South American Eight Real pieces, the global currency standard at the time. But to no avail. In 1826 the Irish pound and currency were formally abolished by Britain. The reality had become that the Irish pound's value had sank far below the English Sterling. So for the next hundred years, English coin and notes served the Irish financial system.

The Irish War of Independence (1919-1921) saw a split in the island country brought on by a stalemate and through a truce with peace negotiations to follow into 1922. As a result, the Irish Free State arose with Dublin as it's Capital. The much smaller portion, Northern Ireland, would remain under British rule with defined borders established. With a new country, a new currency was needed. In 1928 the Saorstat, or Free State Pound , was issued at a value equal to the British Sterling pound. By 1938 it had been known as the Punt, or Irish Pound. The final image is one such denomination. Two major changes came to Irish coinage under self rule. In 1969 currency value changed under the Decimal Currency Act followed in 2002 to conversion to the Euro. With the Euro's popularity and nearly 90% of all public transactions in the first week conducted as such, the Irish Pound and notes ceased as legal tender on February 9. Although the conflict between the two continued for the next 76 years. The current leading Irish political party, Sinn Fein, has never been closer to a true One Ireland with renewed talks ongoing.

Thank you for reading. As you have inspired me to write about some wonderful and fascinating coins, their history as well as my own, may this particular blog do likewise upon yourself.



Level 4

Great detailed blog. A fascinating history of the country and the coins.


Level 5

Great blog LB. I'm also of European ancestry. While stationed in Belgium, I made a few Irish friends. We usually had dinner with Tommy and Katie Kehoe once a week. Sometimes we would go to the International Club for a drink after dinner. These folks provided me with an insight to their country of origin. Although it was difficult to understand their dialect at times ( after leaving the International Club). Just one quick question, did you get any tips from coinsbygary on taking those pictures?....LOL Not only was this blog well written and informative, the pictures were a bonus! Thanks for posting buddy!


Level 5

There is a guy in my coin club that collects medieval Irish coins. The history of Ireland is fascinating!


Level 5

A most excellent blog sir. It was well worth the time reading it and included information that I wasn't aware of. I have a small irish coinage collection that I can appreciate even more now.

I love the Coper pieces they produced, Ireland hasn't always been ireland's, but the people there are great and the history is even better. Thanks!


Level 5

I love this.... Ireland has a special place in my family as well. Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge! Some of this was new to me, and I appreciate that very much! Cheers, NM

I. R. Bama

Level 5

You have the most interesting blogs and I always come away more knowledgeable about history. It's interesting and makes sense that the plague spread in a warmer climate and then died out when it was cooler. The little ice age probably had as much to do with massive losses of human as political activities and the blight.


Level 6

Great blog. Packed with history. Nice to read about the Little Ice Age. I guess all those peat fires caused global cooling. Better lay off that. God willing I pray for a free united ireland. Abd I'm not even Irish.. Thanks. I would say the IRA chant but that would be political.. Dangerous blog here. Thanks...


Level 6

Thank you for illuminating the faxcinating history of Ireland, I thoroughly enjoyed it.


Level 5

I did the 23andME dna thing and found out I have some English/Irish in me. All European ancestry for me. Great blog and history. Amazing how long ago these events took place. Life must of been difficult and the history of coinage is amazing. I need to read up on these time periods.


Level 7

I had to stop . I did study the history of the land of my birth. To the starvation of Ireland. Anyone who thinks all we ate were potatoes is not thinking with logic. I saw the list of ships that left Ireland with every animal in the country hundreds of ships left not a one came back with food. They had every animal any farm would have. Our money had all those of animals on it . Lest not we forget.


Level 7

I enjoyed this very much. Being born in Ireland Waterford to be exact. We talked about the Vikings and there takes on the country setting up house so to speak. Yes they did mint there coins there. Some of us are afraid to check out heratage. I did I'm all Irish going back to the King of Leinster. The British tried there genocide killing as many of us as they could. They made a half cent done by Mr. Woods called the Woods Hibernia. As soon as it got to Ireland it went to the colonies. They did not check with the Irish Parliament. And it had the King on it. We didn't like him. There are signs of the Vikings in Ireland. The North was a setup. They went to negotiate but that was done. The largest shipyards in the world were in the north. Today we still fight for a free United Ireland. Great blog. You got my Irish blood going thanks.


Level 5

I always enjoy history with coins. Well Done, and sweet coins! Later!


Level 6

Nice blog. I like the your passion of writing blogs. .Well thought out. We all write on subjects dear to us. Keep up the good worl.

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