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  • Writer's pictureWilliam Tyler

Gunmoney: An Emergency Coin Issue in 17th cent Ireland

Emergency coins are coins which are issued in times of stress, especially a war.

Gunmoney was one such issue In Ireland during the war between the deposed King,

James II, and his daughter and son in law, Mary II and William of Orange (William III) who had seized the British throne in 'The Glorious and Bloodless Revolution' of 1688.

James returned in 1689 from exile in France to Ireland, from where he hoped to mount an expedition to England to regain his crown. Ireland was an obvious choice because the Irish, like James himself, were Catholics. In the tumultuous 17th century the religious division between Protestant and Catholic underpinned the politics of the Age. James (Catholic) represented the old order of Absolute Monarchy, whereas William and Mary (Protestant) represented a constitutional monarchy, where Parliament was of supreme importance.

Today, we think of the war ending with James' defeat at the Battle of The Boyne in 1690, but in reality the war dragged on for over a year.

The emergency coinage issued by James was in order to pay his troops. Its redeemable value in coin of the realm depended on James being victorious. As such the coins all bore, very unusually, the month as well as the year of minting. This was so they could be redeemed in order and the interest due on the pay accurately calculated. In the event, of course, they were never redeemed, and James would never recover his throne. The coins continued to circulate in Ireland, devalued. until the early years of the 18th century as Britain minted so few coins for the island. This is one of the reasons that the ones that exist today are often of very poor quality.

The other reason they are of poor quality is that they were minted from gunmetal, melted down from enemy cannon. Hence the name GUNMONEY has stuck. But in reality any copper or brass from Church bells to pots and pans, indeed any scrap, was put to good use in the minting of these coins. Other metals were also used but less frequently, including pewter, gold, and silver.

There were two main issues of Gunmoney from the Dublin Mint. The first issue is described as 'large', and the second as 'small' (reduced in size when supplies of metal began to run out). The values ranged from 6d to a Crown (5/-). A third issue came from Limerick when the city came under siege from William's Forces.

Jacobite resistance was beaten and James retired to France, destined never to see Britain again.

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