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The Irish currency
At the time of the establishment of the Irish Free State there already existed a sophisticated banking system throughout the island of Ireland, which utilised the English Pound Sterling as a currency in various different forms. Sterling had been Legal Tender in Ireland since 1826. Before this, there had been an Irish Pound which was separate from the Pound Sterling, and had had a different value to it.
During British rule a great variety of banknotes circulated in Ireland. Banknotes then were issued by six commercial banks under license from and under the control of the Bank of England. English currency circulated also. The issuing banks were The Belfast Banking Company, The Northern Bank, The Ulster Bank, The Provincial Bank of Ireland, The Bank of Ireland, and The National Bank. None of the notes issued by the six banks were legal tender except during World War 1. British Treasury notes, introduced in 1914, circulated alongside the issues of the banks as well as English coinage. The Treasury notes were the only Legal Tender Paper currency in use.
After Irish independence in 1921 the banknotes of the banks with the right of note issue continued to circulate throughout the island of Ireland. The notes of some banks also became smaller and more modern in appearance around this time, with just the head office in Belfast and/or Dublin being mentioned instead of all the branches of the bank. English currency also continued to circulate.
However, during the 1920s the need for a distinctive Irish currency and an authority to control its issue and proliferation became apparent. A Banking Commission was appointed on 8 March 1926 by the Minister for Finance to study the matter. The Banking Commission consisted of eight persons; six bankers, one civil servant and a Chairman, one Professor Henry Parker Willis, of Colombia University, New York, USA. It sat for nine months, issuing four interim reports, and one final report. It recommended the creation of a new Legal Tender Note issue (this became the Lady Lavery Series), and the retention of the right of note issue of the commercial banks, as a combined issue (this became the Ploughman series). The recommendations lead to the 1927 Currency Act.
The currency circulating in Ireland changed radically with the provisions of the 1927 Currency Act. The Currency Commission was created and commenced the issue of Irish Legal Tender Notes in 1928. In 1929 the Associated Banks' issues in the island of Ireland split into Consolidated Banknotes controlled by the Currency Commission in the Irish Free State, and a new Belfast issue in Northern Ireland.
In 1943 the Currency commission was dissolved and replaced by a new regulatory authority, The Central Bank of Ireland with increased powers. This was on the result of a report in 1938, produced by a second Banking Commission convened in 1934.
With parity of value between Sterling and the Irish Pound, Northern Ireland notes and Bank of England notes always continued to circulate in the Irish Free State and later the Republic of Ireland, though the notes of the Currency Commission and later the Central Bank of Ireland did not circulate in Britain or Northern Ireland.
This system continued up until Ireland became part of the ERM in 1979, breaking the link with Sterling. Ireland went on to be a founding member of the Euro zone in 2002, which lead to the replacement of the Irish Pound in circulation by the Euro.
The diagram above is intended to provide an overview of Irish banknote issues for banknote collectors.
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