The Irish Free State was established in 1922, formally ending centuries of British rule. The new nation, desiring a coinage distinct from that of their previous rulers, formed a committee with the aim of selecting new and uniquely Irish coin designs. With the poet W.B. Yeats as the chair, the group decided on an agricultural theme, highlighting the natural bounty of Ireland, writes PADDY RYAN


The ‘barnyard collection’ might suggest an outdoor fashion range but readers of a certain vintage were intimately acquainted with items in this collection which was the first range of coins produced by Saorstát Éireann, in 1928.

Up to this, British coinage was in use. As there had been no distinct Irish coinage for over a century since the Act of Union fully kicked in, this was a significant step.
And the government, still recovering from the turmoil of the previous decade, was keenly aware of the importance of distinct Irish coins as symbols of national identity in everyday use.

Earlier debates about including representations of Saint Patrick and more recent Irish heroes were resolved by Minister for Finance, Ernest Blythe, who decreed the new coins would not have representations of people. Nobel Laureate, Senator William Butler Yeats — a prominent member of the Coinage Committee — suggested that the new currency should celebrate animals — the backbone of rural Irish economy. This was agreed.

It was decided that higher denominations of the coinage would contain ‘more noble and dignified types’ of animals, while ‘more humble types’ would appear on lower denominations. Class distinction was obviously a feature of the barnyard, as well.

For the highest denomination —the silver half-crown (2s/6d.) — a horse was selected in recognition of Ireland’s internaSwtional equine reputation. The silver two-shilling piece (the florin) was adorned by a salmon with its legendary connotations as the ‘salmon of knowledge.’ Acknowledging the historical and mythical importance of cattle, the bull graced the shilling.

The sixpenny bit (the tanner) sported the wolfhound — an animal associated with Ireland from time immemorial. Its smooth coat caused some confusion with a greyhound and rumours that it was famous Waterford greyhound, Master McGrath.

The ‘tanner’ was made from pure nickel as was the three pence coin that featured the hare — an animal associated with Irish superstition and folklore.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own