The Irish Free State, subsequently known as the Republic of Ireland, resolved in the mid-1920s to design its own coins and banknotes; at the time of the currency's first issue, the Free State government decided to peg its value to the Pound Sterling. The Currency Act, 1927 was passed as a basis for the creation of banknotes and the creation of the "Saorstát pound" (later the "Irish pound") as the "standard unit of value" and the legal tender notes issued under this act commenced circulation on September 10 1928.
See also: Coinage of the Republic of Ireland
A banking commission was created in 1926, the Commission of Inquiry into Banking and the Issue of Notes, to determine what changes were necessary in relation to banking and banknote issue in the new state. The commission was chaired by Professor Henry Parker Willis of Columbia University who was Director of Research of the Federal Reserve Board in the United States. The commission was given a terms of reference:
The commissions report of January 1927 recommended the creation of a currency for the state, but one that would be directly backed and fixed to the pound sterling in the United Kingdom on a one-for-one basis. This new currency, the "Saorstát pound", was overseen by the politically independent Currency Commission created by the Currency Act, 1927. As a result of the backing by the pound sterling the notes of the Commission could be presented at the Bank of England, London and exchanged with the pound sterling, without charge or commission, on a one-for-one basis.
A second banking commission was created in November 1934, the Commission of Inquiry into Banking, Currency and Credit, to inquire into the creation of a central bank among other things. The majority report of August 1938 recommended for the creation of a central bank with enhanced powers and functions. This resulted in the creation of the Central Bank of Ireland, but it would take three decades before the bank would have all the rights and functions associated with a central bank.
As the usual convention for banknote issue banknotes are and were issued in the name of the Currency Commission or Central Bank as existed at the time of print.
Before the advent of the euro, three series of notes were issued that held legal tender status; these are generally referred to as "Series A", "Series B" and "Series C" respectively. A series of notes known as the "Consolidated Banknotes" were issued, but were not assigned the status of legal tender.
The initial series of notes, called "Series A", was devised by the Currency Commission, these notes were printed by Waterlow and Sons, Limited, London which was acquired by De La Rue. The commission created an advisory committee which determined the theme and design of the notes. Notes were in the denominations of 10/-, £1, £5, £10, £20, £50, and £100. Each note has a portrait of a woman, believed to be Lady Lavery – wife of the artist Sir John Lavery, who was commissioned to design this feature.
The predominant theme on the notes is the rivers of Ireland, which are depicted as heads taken from the Custom House, Dublin. Whilst there was some uncertainty as to which rivers were depicted, it is agreed that rivers in both the Irish Free State and Northern Ireland were chosen. Each note also contains a watermark of the Head of Erin.
This series of banknotes were never legal tender notes but essentially equivalent to "promissory notes" that continue to be issued by some banks in the United Kingdom. These notes were issued as a transitional measure for eight banks ("Shareholding Banks" of the Currency Commission); Bank of Ireland, Hibernian Bank Limited, Munster & Leinster Bank Limited, National Bank Limited, Northern Bank Limited, Provincial Bank of Ireland Limited, Royal Bank of Ireland Limited and Ulster Bank Limited. These notes were issued, first, between May 6 and June 10 of 1929 under the arrangement that the banks withdraw previous notes they issued and refrained from issue of further notes. The consolidated notes were only issued by the Currency Commission and the last notes were printed in 1941, the notes were officially withdrawn on December 31, 1953.
Each note contained the common design of a man ploughing in a field with two horses on the front and they are often referred to as the "Ploughman Notes" because of this, the main differences were the name of the bank and its authorising signature. The notes denominations, and the back designs were; £1 (Custom House, Dublin), £5 (St. Patrick's Bridge, Cork), £10 (Currency Commission Building, Foster Place, Dublin), £20 (Rock of Cashel, County Tipperary), £50 (Croagh Patrick, County Mayo) and £100 (Killiney Bay, County Dublin).
This series of notes called "Series B" was commissioned by the Central Bank of Ireland and were designed and brought into circulation between 1976 and 1982. Servicon, an Irish design company, was employed to design the notes of the denominations; £1, £5, £10, £20, £50 and £100. The £100 note was never issued or circulated. This remains somewhat of an idiosyncrasy in the issue of Irish banknotes as this is the only series without a note of this denomination.
The theme chosen for these notes was history of Ireland, and each note featured the portrait of a person with this theme in mind from a particular era from historic to modern. The Lady Lavery portrait, from Series A, was retained but this time as a watermark.
This series of notes called "Series C" was the outcome of a limited competition held in 1991 in which nine Irish artists were invited. The winner and designer of the series was Robert Ballagh. This series of notes had denominations of £5, £10, £20, £50 and £100, no Irish pound note was designed as the currency had a coin of this value since 1990. This series was introduced at short notice, with the £20 being the first to be issued, following widespread forgery of the Series B £20 note. The last banknote of the Series C issue was a £50 that was issued in 2001.
The theme for this series was people who contributed to the formation of a modern Ireland, and to this effect it includes politicians, a language, a literary and a religious figure. The political figures do not include anyone directly associated with the Irish War of Independence, which eventually lead to the creation of the Irish Free State, as this might have proved controversial both because of the war itself and its aftermath, the Irish Civil War.
Generally, central banks in the Eurozone provide banknotes of one specific denomination each year, according to demand and a rotating allocation (determined by the ECB). Prior to the introduction of the euro in 2002, national banks produced several of the lower denominations to build up stockpiles. Since 2002 however, the Central Bank of Ireland has only printed €10 notes, as of 2005. Although notes produced in other Eurozone states circulate alongside domestically produced notes, the country of origin for any euro banknote can be identified by a one-letter prefix preceding the serial number. Banknotes produced in Ireland can be identified by the prefix "T".
A further complication is that the actual printing of banknotes is not necessarily undertaken in the country in which banknotes are given a serial number and released. The Central Bank of Ireland is the sole Irish printer of euro banknotes (in some other Eurozone countries, notes are printed by a private company commissioned to do so by the central bank, rather than the central bank itself). Any notes printed by the Central Bank of Ireland will have the prefix "K" before the series code in a small star on the front of the banknote.
The Central Bank of Ireland does not currently introduce €200 and €500 notes into circulation, although these are legal tender in the country. If spent (by people coming from another Eurozone member state) they are unlikely to be passed to other consumers, and will find their way back to the banks (which usually only dispense notes up to €100).