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Inverted anchor cross. A cross with slightly widened ends, with two anchor flukes coming out of the top and curving left and right, also with slightly widened ends.

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Crowned harp divides date at bottom Script: Latin Lettering: HIBERNIA · 17 · 44

1744 Ireland Farthing

My main piece for this article is somewhat worn and well used. But, like so many pieces, it has such a fascinating tale. In particular today, I went exploring the Irish harp.

Ireland has long been associated with the harp. “In April 1185, not long after the Norman invasion of Ireland, Prince John arrived in Waterford for a year-long tour of the country.” Although not impressed with the Irish overall, he was enamoured by their harp playing: “For their modulation on these instruments, unlike that of the Britons to which I am accustomed, is not slow and harsh, but lively and rapid, while the harmony is both sweet and gay… It must be remarked… that both Scotland and Wales strive to rival Ireland in the art of music.”

Likely earlier, but certainly since Prince John’s accounts became known, the harp became a national symbol of Ireland.

In 1744, when my farthing was produced, it was well entrenched on Irish coins:

Crowned harp divides date at bottom Script: Latin Lettering: HIBERNIA · 17 · 44

The text above the harp reads “Hibernia”. In ancient Celtic, the name of the place was “Iveriu”, possibly meaning land surrounded by water. Being further north than much of the rest of the Roman Empire, the Romans called it Hibernia or sometimes Invernia, meaning “Winterland”.

When Henry VIII declared himself King of Ireland in 1541, he upgraded Ireland’s status from a lordship to a kingdom. As a result, the country’s own unique coinage was introduced and it featured a harp topped with a crown Image courtesy Numista:

1534-35 Ireland Groat issued under Henry VIII. Obverse features a crowned harp flanked by crowned initials h A. Reverse features Quartered arms over cross fourchée dividing legend

Henry VIII’s example features a regular harp surmounted by a crown. Mine is somewhat worn, but has an extra detail – it is a female, or winged maiden harp. Romanticised as the female personification or Erin (Ireland), it is therefore to Ireland, similar to what Brittania is to England.

More than that, not only is the female harp symbolic of Ireland, but also of her struggle for political independence. Since that Norman invasion I started this piece with, Ireland and England have had an intertwined and complex relationship. My intention here is purely to expand a little on the history of the symbolism, rather than the politics.

Laureate young bust left, dividing legend Script: Latin Lettering: GEORGIUS . II . R E X .

The obverse of this 1744 farthing features George II, King of Great Britain and Ireland. Completely unrelated to this piece, George II was the last British King to lead his troops in battle in 1708 at the battle of Oudenarde (he was a prince at that point).

Finally, what of Irish coins today? They still feature the harp, albeit back to a regular instrument now:

An Irish harp in the center with the country name in Irish to the left, the date to the right, and the 12 stars of Europe in the outer ring Script: Latin Lettering: éire 2008 Translation: Ireland 2008 Engraver: Jarlath Hayes Read more on Wikipedia
Ireland 2014 2 Euro featuring a harp. Note the country name “Éire”, an Irish name for the country (There are a lot of variations and names for this land!)
Crowned harp divides date at bottom Script: Latin Lettering: HIBERNIA · 17 · 44






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