It has been twelve years since my nomination for the archive was last in circulation. January 1st 2002 was the death knoll for the Punt and for the uniquely Irish design of its coins. In particular, the coins’ reverse side, (the Harp icon being on the ‘front’ of the coins, not the reverse, something that is commonly mistaken). In the name of progress and a united European currency, we lost from public view what I feel was a design classic. The Irish 50p coin.
When I first suggested the reverse of our pre-Euro coins I had highlighted in particular the 50p coin. Why? Surely not just because of its shape? The seven sided coin, each side curved so the apex is directly in the middle of its opposite point. Curved sides so it would roll through a slot machine with ease? (You have to love that).
In short. No, not just because of its shape. While being a factor, we can hardly take credit for that when it was based exactly on the equivalent British coin.
But look again (if you can find one) at its simplicity. There is something elegant yet understated about the design. Something that manages to be self-deprecating and uniquely Irish without resorting to religious iconography or 'Irish' crutches like the shamrock. The use of native animals as differentiators of denomination was always a favourite of mine. Taken from our waters, our lands and our skies it was these representations that captivated me as a child and still do. However, it was the freedom of the woodcock on the 50p that for me, worked best. Not held to the ground like the bull on the 5p or constrained by the coin’s edge like the salmon on the 10p, the woodcock could float freely in the space given to it by the larger coin. Add to this the perfect placement of the denomination, tucked into the negative space between the upper wing and the tail and you are left with a design that deserves to be remembered.
I suppose in nominating it I was hoping to celebrate something that had been lost or simply overlooked. Often we ignore the things that we see or interact with in our everyday lives but isn’t this (sometimes) the mark of good design? This coin has passed through the fingers of nearly every person on this island, probably without ever truly being appreciated.
I feel sorry for the new generation that will never get to hold it in their hands and appreciate its quiet confidence. To feel its unique shape or to do as I did many times as a child. To line it up with the other Irish coins and play with the animals.