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Saturday, 9 February, 2002, 14:18 GMT
Short life of Irish punt
An old 10-punt note
The punt floated free for just three years
By Louise Williams in Dublin

On 9 February the Irish pound - the punt - goes out of circulation.

Letting it go has not proved a big challenge for most Irish people, as the currency spent most of last century linked to other monetary institutions, first in Britain, and later in Europe.

Irish euro coins
Continuity: The harp remains on the euro
After Ireland gained independence from Britain in the 1920s, the state set up a Currency Commission to develop symbols suitable for a new state and a new money.

The poet WB Yeats, a leading figure in Ireland's cultural renaissance, was chairman of the commission. The images chosen to decorate Irish money were designed by an Englishman Percy Metcalf.

To appear on coins, the harp was chosen. The harp has traditionally been a national symbol in Ireland and continues to appear on all Irish Euro coins.

The reverse side of these first coins showed images of animals from rural Ireland - a woodcock, a sow with piglets, and a jumping salmon.

Here, a banknote is a banknote, what it buys is what's important to people in Ireland

John Fitzgerald of the Economic and Social Research Institute

The first Irish bank notes, printed in 1928, were bilingual in both Irish and English. Each note featured a portrait of a doe-eyed woman in a shawl leaning against another Irish harp.

The woman was Lady Hazel Lavery, an American by birth and the wife of a well-known Irish artist, Sir John Lavery.

Sterling link

Although Lady Lavery's image was eventually removed from Irish bank notes, she continued to be instantly recognisable as her image was to be found in the watermark of more recent banknotes.

James Joyce
Joyce: A popular design
Since 1928, Lady Lavery's portrait has hung in the Irish Central Bank in Dublin, but this year the painting is expected to move to the National Gallery.

Both British and Irish coins circulated in the Republic of Ireland, and when decimalisation was introduced in Britain in 1971, Ireland followed suit.

Coins for small denominations such as the penny and halfpenny were made in bronze and decorated with elaborate Celtic patterns around abstract images of birds.

The coins continued to carry images of animals, including a horse, a bull and a hen.

It was not until 1979 when the link with sterling was broken, that the punt grew up, became independent and traded at a different value to sterling.

But only three years later, Ireland joined the European Monetary Union (which would eventually lead to the euro), and this brief period of monetary independence came to an end.

No protest

During the 1990s, new notes were introduced here, designed by well-known contemporary Irish artist Robert Ballagh. These notes featured prominent Irish artists such as James Joyce and Samuel Beckett and proved very popular.

But nonetheless, there has been little protest about losing the old symbols of the punt.

"We don't have an attachment to the Irish pound as such," concludes John Fitzgerald of the Economic and Social Research Institute.

"We don't have any hang-ups about monetary policy. For Germans, the Deutschmark has been much more a symbol of national identity.

"This is a very different transition for Irish people. Here, a banknote is a banknote, what it buys is what's important to people in Ireland."

Farewell punt
What are your memories of the Irish currency?
See also:

09 Feb 02 | Europe
Punt passes away quietly
02 Jan 02 | Northern Ireland
'Smooth' changeover to euro
05 Dec 01 | Business
Irish consumers confront the euro
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