Yeats and Irish coins

Published in Issue 2 (March/April 2018), Letters, Volume 26

Sir,—With regard to Tony Canavan’s review of the Central Bank Visitor Centre (HI 26.1, Jan./Feb. 2018) and the design of the new coinage for the Irish Free State, my impression was that W.B. Yeats, given his family connection to visual art and his pre-eminence as a poet, overshadowed everybody on the committee, including the secretary of the Department of Finance. Yeats was going to get what he wanted, and Yeats, from the very beginning, wanted Metcalfe: as a medallist and a Yorkshire man, he was used to working in miniature and he knew exactly what Irish animals looked like. Yeats justified using animals on the grounds that it would inform Irish farmers what their livestock should actually look like; a religious motif ran the risk of being taken out of circulation and hoarded as a sacred talisman, thus defeating the purpose. The competition was never anything more than a way of getting around the fact that Metcalfe was English. The other artists included people who had worked on monumental scales: small for them was not beautiful. Jerome O’Connor, who would do the statue of Robert Emmet now in St Stephen’s Green, to my mind the best public sculpture in Dublin, submitted designs, though one wouldn’t naturally be inclined to think of him as either an animal or miniature-size sculptor. All were duly paid for their contribution. In short, the whole thing had been a fix (so what’s new?), but one that produced the right result: Yeats got what he wanted. And they were very beautiful coins.—Yours etc.,

 

EOIN DILLON
Dublin 8

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