30 Oct WB Yeats Anniversary – Chairman of the Irish Coin Committee
William Butler Yeats
Celebrating the Chairman of the First Irish Coin Committee of the Irish Free State.
As the 150th anniversary of the birth of WB Yeats is celebrated on 13th of June, it’s worth noting that the noble prize winner, founder of the Abbey Theatre, was the Chairman of Irelands first coin committee.
He was born in Sandymount and educated in London and spent his summer holidays in Sligo also known as ‘Yeats Country’
He studied poetry from an early age and was fascinated by Irish folklore, this interest would later be revisited when he was asked to design the Free states Irish coin design.
In 1923 WB Yeats was awarded the Nobel Prise in literature “for his always inspired poetry, which in a highly artistic form gives expression to the spirit of a whole nation”.
Ireland was a country in change, and he was aware of the value of an Irish winner of the Nobel Prize so shortly after Ireland gained independence.
He highlighted this in his reply to all the letters of congratulations he received. “I consider that this honour has come to me less as an individual than as a representative of Irish literature, it is part of Europe’s welcome to the Free State.
He remarked “The theatres of Dublin were empty buildings hired by the English travelling companies, and we wanted Irish plays and Irish players. When we thought of these plays we thought of everything that was romantic and poetical, because the nationalism we had called up’
Yeats was asked by the founders of the new state to Chair the first Irish coin committee. In 1926 he organised a competition to find images for the new Irish coins, which would reflect Irish culture and heritage.
Yeats wanted a currency which would reflect the newly founded Irish state. The winner was Percy Metcalfe and his designs reflected Ireland’s mainly agricultural society. The images also reflected Irish folklore such as the Salmon used in the 10p, which was taken from Cu Chulainns ‘Salmon of knowledge and freedom and the Irish bull used in the Shilling and later after decimalisation the 5p. The bulls image was a sign of wealth, reflecting a time where the size and pedigree of livestock reflected wealth, it also gave a nod to the folklore tale ‘the Brown Bull of Cooley’ and so Ireland become the first modern state in the world to design their own currency, a sign of new independence and freedom.
When Ireland switched to the Euro in 2002, the Irish coins were removed from circulation.