The IIHSA logo: W.B. Yeats and Irish coinage

Our logo evokes and connects the cultures of Ireland and Greece. The bull is based on the coinage of the ancient Greek city of Thurii in southern Italy, the inspiration for the modern Irish five pence coin upto the end of 2001. Spiral and concentric designs are equally familiar in ancient Greek and Irish art.

Yeats and Irish Coinage: The Greek Connection

A reminder of links between Greece and Ireland, which transcend the boundaries between past and present was the design on Irish coins, in circulation up to the end of 2001.

A committee chaired by W.B. Yeats, the poet, was formed to supervise the design of Ireland's first coinage of its own in 1928. Ireland thus became the first modern state to design an entire set of coins. The challenge was to create a coinage which would be both attractive and embody the spirit of Ireland. Yeats drew inspiration from the coinage of the ancient classical world - both in terms of ideas for actual designs, and for the underlying theme - that of the natural produce of Ireland.

Ancient Greek coins - issued by each and every Greek city-state - were statements of their independent status and an enduring expression of identity. They depict a wide range of images but common to many was imagery which announced and advertised a natural product or resource of importance to their economy.

Beyond the general idea of coinage depicting the natural wealth of the nation and, as Yeats puts it, "telling one story", he had examples of certain ancient coins sent out to the seven artists who accepted the invitation to compete for the commission. For example, the three penny piece was modelled on the hare of Messana and the shilling (ten pence) on the bull of Thurii. The idea had been to choose the best of the designs using the work of several artists. In the end the committee decided to use all the designs of Percy Metcalfe.

Greek City State coin from Thurii in Southern Italy, approx. 440 B.C

All of the animals evoked some distinctive aspect of Irish life and none more so than the bull; as Brian Cleeve (writing about the design of the coinage) so elegantly puts it: "the bulls that trod our fields with country majesty, whose ancestry coursed back into the hidden ages of paganism, into the time of Cuchulainn and the Táin." Little wonder there was some opposition to the use of pagan images on the coinage!

The example of the coinage beautifully illustrates the potential for the classical past to provide inspiration in terms of ideas and designs for a modern European context. Like ancient Greek coins the Irish coinage met the requirements Yeats set out - that it should be "beautiful, intelligible and appropriate in meaning for the people of the country and foreigners."

Christine Morris 1999

Original Design: Christine Morris
Drawing: Jenny Doole

More information on Irish coinage from earliest times to the present day

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The information contained in these Web pages is, to the best of our knowledge, true and accurate at the time of publication, and is solely for information purposes. The Irish Institute of Hellenic Studies at Athens accepts no liability for any loss or damage whatsoever arising as a result of use of or reliance on this information, whether authorised or not.

Designed by iArchitectures (2007).



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