Old Irish Money
Created | Updated Jul 11, 2014
From 1928 until 2001, southern Ireland had its own currency, with notes and coins. Now with the introduction of the single European currency, the Euro, this aspect of Irish culture has disappeared. This Entry tries to provide all you might ever want to know about Irish currency.
Saorstát Éireann - The Irish Free State
When the 26 counties of southern Ireland became a separate country from the United Kingdom in 1922, it was decided a new currency was needed. This consisted of new notes and coins, but the currency was still officially linked to the UK currency, Sterling. The new currency was introduced in 1928.
The money consisted of three units:
- Pound, Pounds (symbol £)
- Shilling, Shillings (symbol 's'). There were 20 shillings in a pound.
- Penny, Pence (symbol 'd'). There were 12 pence in a shilling
The pound symbol actually had two horizontal lines but was often printed with only one.
|£50||50 pounds||Purplish blue|
|£100||100 pounds||Olive green|
The biggest of these notes, the £100, was worth a fortune. 20 of these notes would buy you a Rolls Royce car or a large house.
The notes were large - the £20 was about twice as long and twice as wide as a modern 20 Euro note. They featured Celtic designs around the outside. On the left was a large panel with a picture of an Irish colleen (young woman) playing the harp. On the smaller notes, only the head and shoulders of the colleen were visible. The model was Hazel Lady Lavery, so the notes are often called the 'Lady Lavery series'. On the right was an empty panel with a watermark. On the back in the centre was a stone head, a different one on each denomination, representing one of the rivers of Ireland.
The front of the notes gave the value of the note in Pounds Sterling.
Almost all the coins were designed to be exactly the same size, weight and composition as UK coins. This was because it was planned that UK currency would continue to circulate in Ireland along with the new Irish currency. The exceptions were the 3d and 6d coins. The thick 12-sided UK 3d was considered 'inconvenient and unpopular' in Ireland so it was decided to introduce a new (circular) 3d coin. Because this was similar to a UK 6d coin, it was decided to also introduce a new bigger 6d coin.
The coins were based on drawings of animals by Percy Metcalfe. On the front of the coin was an animal, the value of the coin (for example 2s 6d) and the name of the coin in Irish (for example Scilling). On the back was a harp, the name of the country Saorstát Éireann and the date. The harp was modelled on the Brian Boru Harp in Trinity College, Dublin.
|½d||Leath Phingin||Halfpenny||Bronze||Sow and piglets|
|1d||Pingin||Penny||Bronze||Hen and chicks|
|2s 6d||Leath Choróin||Two shillings and sixpence||Silver||Horse|
Éire and the Republic of Ireland
When Ireland got a new constitution and a president in 1937, it was decided to change the name of the country on the coins to Éire, the Irish for Ireland. This became the official name of the country in 1948 when Ireland became a republic.
In 1942, it was decided to change the nickel coins to cupro-nickel, a similar-looking alloy. In 1950, the silver coins followed suit and also became cupro-nickel.
In around 1960, the notes were redesigned slightly so that they no longer mentioned one pound sterling on them, but the currency was still linked to Sterling.
Around the same time, the Farthing (one quarter penny) became redundant due to increasing prices and was phased out.
In 1971, it was decided that the UK and Ireland should adopt a decimal currency with 100 subunits in the unit, the same as other European countries and America. The old shillings and pennies were abandoned. The unit was kept the same, at one Pound. The new subunit was confusingly called a penny, the same name as the old smallest unit. There were now 100 pence in a pound whereas before there had been 240. The new unit was temporarily called the 'new penny' to distinguish it from the old one, but the 'new' was soon dropped when people became familiar with them.
The new penny was abbreviated as 'p' on the coins rather than the 'd' of the old penny. To confuse things, Irish stamps had always used 'p' as the abbreviation for penny, so the new stamps dropped the abbreviation altogether.
A new set of coins was issued. Three of these used the Percy Metcalfe animal designs, while three used entirely new Celtic designs by Gabrielle Hayes.
|½p||Bronze||Celtic knotwork bird|
|1p||Bronze||Celtic knotwork bird|
|2p||Bronze||Celtic knotwork bird|
The new 5p was identical in value to the old 1s so the coin was made virtually identical - the same size and with the same picture. Only the inscription and the milling around the edge were changed. Similarly, the new 10p was virtually identical to the old 2s. The new bronze coins all bore a squiggle which on close examination turned out to be a bird drawn in the ancient Celtic knotwork style. These bird coins, designed by Gabrielle Hayes, were never very popular with the Irish public - most people preferred the animals.
The decimal currency was brought in on 'Decimal Day', 15 February, 1971. Despite careful preparation, there was complete mayhem. People were totally confused as to the value of the new money. Shops took the opportunity to raise prices. This coincided with the start of a period of massive inflation in Europe, the worst in the UK and Ireland since the Second World War. This was initially blamed on the new currency, until it became obvious that everybody else in Europe was suffering too. As an example, in the period 1974 to 1982, house prices rose by 400%.
The Irish Pound, 1979
In 1979, Ireland decided to break the link with the UK Sterling currency and float its own currency on the international money markets. The new currency was called the Irish Pound and the official abbreviation was IR£ or IEP (the pound was named punt in the Irish language, but this was never the name of the currency in English). This new currency very quickly settled at a value of about IR£1 = 80p Sterling.
To mark the new currency, new notes were created. These had a picture of a person from Irish history or mythology on the front and various things on the back. They bore the inscription in Irish on the front and English on the back.
|Colour||Front design||Back design|
|£1||Green||Queen Medhbh, an ancient Irish mythological queen||An extract from the Book of the Dun Cow|
|£5||Light brown||Dun Scotus, a monk||An extract from the Book of Kells|
|£10||Purple||Dean Jonathan Swift, an 18th Century author||A map of Dublin|
|£20||Light blue||WB Yeats, a 20th Century poet||A map of the Blasket Islands, Kerry|
|£50||Dark brown||Turlough O'Carolan, an 18th Century harpist||A wood carving of musical instruments|
There was no £100 note, so the old note continued to circulate.
The 20p coin was introduced in 1986. It was made of brass and had a picture of a horse, the same one from the old half crown piece. Whereas up to now, all the coins had been exactly the same size and shape as the UK coins, from here on, all Irish coins were made to be different from the UK coins.
At about this time, the (new) halfpenny was phased out. It was no longer worth enough to bother about.
The £1 note was replaced in 1990 by a £1 coin. To contrast with the UK small thick pound coin, the Irish one was huge and thin. It was cupro-nickel, with a picture of a stag on it. This was designed by Tom Ryan.
The 5p and the 10p were considered too big, so new smaller versions were introduced in 1993. These had almost exactly the same pattern; they were just scaled down in size. One subtle difference which escaped many people's notice was that the bull and the salmon now faced to the left. This brought them in line with all the other coins.
In 1990, new versions of the bronze 1p and 2p coins were produced. These looked identical to the older coins but had a steel centre with a copper coating. This made production of the coins cheaper. This change went almost completely unnoticed by the Irish people.
The Irish notes were found to be too easy to forge, so they were all withdrawn in the period 1992 - 1996 and a new set of notes was introduced, with designs by the artist Robert Ballagh. The new notes had modern security features, such as metal strips, feature alignment between front and back of the note, and ink which changes colour at certain angles, as well as the traditional watermark.
|Colour||Front design||Back design|
|£5||Light Brown and Blue||Sr Catherine McAuley and Mater Misericordiae Hospital, Dublin||Schoolroom with three schoolchildren studying the poem 'Mise Raifteri an file'|
|£10||Green||James Joyce and aerial of view of Dublin||Stone head representing the River Liffey, a map of Dublin and a quotation from Finnegans Wake|
|£20||Purple||Daniel O'Connell and a rural scene||O'Connell's Pledge and the Four Courts|
|£50||Blue||Douglas Hyde and áras an Uachtaráin||Uilleann Piper and the badge of Conradh na Gaeilge|
|£100||Red and Green||Charles Stuart Parnell and Avondale House||Details from the Parnell Monument in O'Connell Street, Dublin|
There were only a few commemorative coins ever issued in Ireland.
1966 - Silver - 10 Shillings - The dying Cúchulainn on the front, with the words Deich Scilling ('ten shillings'). On the back, instead of the usual harp was a picture of Pádraig Pearse, the Irish patriot. To commemorate the Easter Rising of 1916.
1988 - Cupro-Nickel - 50p - Shield of Dublin, with three burning castles on front. To commemorate the 1,000th anniversary of the founding of Dublin (The Dublin Millennium). Designed by Tom Ryan.
2000 - Cupro-Nickel - £1 - An image of the golden model 'Broighter' boat which dates from the 1st Century BC on the front and the word 'Millennium'. To celebrate the year 2000 Millennium. Designed by Alan Ardiff and Garrett Stokes.
Ireland's currency finally came to an end with the introduction of the single European currency, the Euro. This came in as an international dealing currency on 1 January, 1999. The old currencies of Europe ceased to exist as separate entities, being now just visible fronts for the Euro. The Euro coins and notes were introduced on 1 January, 2002, and we said goodbye to the Irish notes and coins on 9 February, 2002, the last day on which they were still legal tender. We can continue to exchange the old money for Euro cash at the Central Bank indefinitely, but the days of the Irish Pound are gone.