Rare gold coin hoard will go on temporary display in South Tipperary museum
Workers who uncovered find to be rewarded

Aileen Hahesy

Aileen Hahesy

The hoard of 17th century gold coins discovered under the floor of a Carrick-on-Suir pub three weeks ago will go on public display in the National Museum of Ireland at Collins Barracks in March.

That’s according to Eamonn Kelly, the Keeper of Irish Antiquities at the National Museum, who confirmed the National Museum will agree to allow the hoard to be temporarily exhibited in South Tipperary County Museum in Clonmel.

And he confirmed the National Museum will pay a finders reward to the building workers, who uncovered the coins hidden while they were digging out a hole in the floor of Cooney’s Pub on Main Street on January 14.

The 81 coins, dating between 1664 and 1701, were viewed by Arts, Heritage & Gaeltacht Minister Jimmy Deenihan and EU Education and Culture Minister Androulla Vassillou at the National Museum last Wednesday.

The discovery of the hoard by workers employed by Grangemockler contractor Shane Comerford while carrying out construction work on the closed pub for the premises’ owner David Kiersey attracted a lot of national and international media attention last week culminating with Mr Kelly showcasing the coins on RTE’s The Late Late Show last Friday night.

Away from the media and public gaze, the Guinea and half Guinea coins are currently undergoing careful assessment at the museum to determine their value and condition.

Mr Kelly said it was the first big find of gold coins from the 17th century to be discovered in Ireland since the 1940s and the first ever hoard of coins to be found in Ireland dating from the second half of the 17th century.

He said the National Museum of Ireland was very grateful to those who found the coins for reporting their discovery, handing them over to the State and also co-operating with the National Museum and National Monuments Service representatives who visited the site.

He said an assessment is being conducted at the moment under the National Monuments Act to establish the value of the finders award. The amount of this award won’t be released publicly by the National Museum.

“The finders should be decently treated and rewarded for their good citizenship. That is a tradition the National Museum has upheld since the 19th century,” said Mr Kelly.

Experts at the National Museum are also trying to piece together more information on why the coins came to be buried under the floorboards of Cooney’s Bar, which has been closed for business for the past three years.

Mr Kelly said they were trying to establish the age of the oldest building on the site of the pub. They suspected the site was originally one of Carrick-on-Suir’s laneways that was infilled with a building.

“What we have established is that it was a deliberate concealment. The coins were piled on top of one another in a cylindrical fashion and were probably covered in paper or cloth,” he explained.

“They were buried in the subsoil beneath the floor at some point after 1701, which was the latest date of the coins in the hoard. They were probably hidden fairly close to that date.”

Mr Kelly said they were unable to establish for certain the age of Cooney’s Pub building. The National Museum had hoped Carrick-on-Suir’s street scape was included in the Historical Atlas series but this hasn’t yet been done.

He doesn’t expect any further excavations or examination of the Cooney’s Pub site will be required.

“We are reasonably satisfied with the evidence we have. The site has been extensively photographed and we don’t think there is any reason to suppose there is any more hoards of coins buried there.”

Mr Kelly said the collection of coins was probably owned by a single wealthy family or individual, most likely a Catholic merchant, who didn’t trust the banks and did not want to reveal his wealth.

“This was the period when the Penal Laws were starting to kick in,” he explained. The Catholic army had sailed off to France after the Siege of Limerick in 1691-1692. The Catholic aristocracy were turning into Protestants or bailing out so next in the firing line were the Catholic merchant class.”

Mr Kelly recounted that there were huge confiscations of land owned by Catholics as a result of the Williamite wars and the Penal Laws stripped Catholics of everything from succession rights to being allowed own a horse worth more than £5.

“Wealthy Catholics would have not been flashing their wealth around at that time. It would have been unwise and would have perhaps attracted unscrupulous elements who would dispossess them of their wealth...Catholics would not have trusted the judiciary, the banking system or the government.”

Mr Kelly said the coins were in good condition and required just a little cleaning. They had established from their condition that they were in public circulation before being stashed away.

He didn’t believe any of the coins were particularly rare.

Turning to the issue of their public display, Mr Kelly said the National Museum anticipated there will be a request to exhibit the coins in South Tipperary Museum and such a request will be granted.

“Like the Derrynaflan hoard, there is of course huge interest. We would like to be able to facilitate people to see the coins. It does place a big demand on the local museum to provide the level of security required. There are financial implications with that. “

In view of this, the majority of local museums, like South Tipperary County Museum, wouldn’t be in a position to display national treasures on a full time basis, he pointed out.

Alongside this, Mr Kelly said the coins were a treasure of national importance and should be kept with the national collection in the National Museum.

He pointed out that another option would be to create replicas of the coins and make them available for exhibit at South Tipperary Museum.

Meanwhile, Mayor of Carrick-on-Suir Cllr Liam Walsh and Carrick-on-Suir Town Manager Pat Slattery have welcomed the discovery of the coin hoard as a great boost for the town’s profile.

Cllr Walsh said it would be nice to see the coins put on display in South Tipperary Museum so that local people will be able to view the treasures. Mr Slattery said it was an exciting, positive story for Carrick-on-Suir and hoped some way would be found to strongly associate the hoard with the town in the public’s mind.

Carrick-on-Suir Senator Denis Landy, who attended the viewing of the coins at the National Museum last week, said he had written to Minister Deenihan calling for the return of the coins after investigations were completed to the County Museum on an ongoing basis in order to boost tourism locally.

Speaking at National Museum last week, he said it would be fitting to return the coins to the County Museum, which played a significant role in South Tipperary’s culture. “This find is of great significance to the area and a source of great pride for all Carrick-on-Suir men and women,” he concluded.