A reader’s comment (with reply) on “Would-be coins of Ireland”

R. S. wrote :

 Interesting. Both coins are lovely . . . but they made the wrong choice.


“Wrong choice”, yes, very much inclined to agree with you ; and how many coins, concepts, even proposed countries, of great merit have been impossibilised by erroneous choices, alas ?

The Coinage Design Committee of Ireland, whereof the poet William Butler Yeats was Chairman, must have seemed quite under his spell : daresay they were following the lead of this “smiling public man” (a Senator by then) in looking for a tame and respectable class of coin that would flatter his obsession with Byzantium to reflect a certain Hellenical restraint and stasis. Thus, the complacent image of the Irish Hunter horse breed was just the ticket to win, never the rearing steed.

Remember too, that this was Ireland in 1927. In the wake of a dicey rebellion, and a nasty civil war, the world was watching every national aspect to see if the new government of “wild Irish” would fall on its face or make a proper go of it as a peaceable Free State complete with regular protocols and dignified accoutrements.

It appears that interference by higher Irish officialdom was a significant factor in the committeemen’s proceedings. Regarding the more placid winning design that shows the Irish Hunter, as we learn from R. F. Foster’s life of Yeats, the poet –

regretted that due to the intervention of the Minister of Agriculture and his experts the hunter had ‘lost muscular tension’, the bull was adapted to suit ‘the eugenics of the farmyard’, and ‘the state of the market for pigs’ cheeks’ made the initial design of sow and piglets impossible. ‘We have instead querulous and harassed animals, better merchandise but less living.’

.W. B. Yeats – A Life, II : The Arch-Poet, 1915-1939

In the end, even that selected set of “beast coinage from Yorkshire” was decried by some of Ireland’s Catholic clergymen as too English (the winning designer, Percy Metcalfe, was indeed a Yorkshireman from Wakefield, while his coins were to be struck at the Royal Mint in London ; a runner-up, by the way, was the Irish sculptor Oliver Sheppard, whose bust of Clarence Mangan graces Stephen’s Green in Dublin and whose statue of the hero Cuchulain did figure on the rarely seen ten-shilling coin). In addition, the depictions on the Committee’s new coins were condemned as a sign of “paganism” and “the thin edge of the wedge of Freemasonry sunk into the very life of our Catholicity” (Yeats was a Church of Ireland Protestant who leant towards Theosophy and partook in rituals of the Golden Dawn).

Below you can see some of the other approved designs. The coins were all discontinued at various junctures after Ireland adopted decimalisation. ~Q~



Farthing, halfpenny and penny, 1927 design of Metcalfe




















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