Irish Political Tokens (Belfast Collection)
Although the history of sectarian and political violence in Ireland goes back many centuries, perhaps the bloodiest and most sustained period of upheaval took place during the last three decades of the 20th century. This period, known as the Troubles, lasted from 1969 until the signing of the Good Friday Agreement on April 10, 1998. The agreement, signed at Stormont in Belfast by British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, provided for a power-sharing assembly to govern Northern Ireland. Most every major participant in the political and military arena supported it, with one major exception being the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).
Despite their disapproval, the measure was approved by referendum on May 22, 1998 by majority votes in both Northern Ireland and in the Irish Republic. The accord was officially implemented on December 2, 1999. Though putting a stop to the most grievous aspects of the three previous decades, much work remained to be done. Even today, two decades later, unrest still simmers just below the surface in many areas of the country.
The counterstamped and tooled coins and tokens I've researched, documented and collected over the past ten or fifteen years are a reminder of the desperate and bloody consequences of the Troubles period. These pieces speak to the anguish, hatred and brutality of the times in a very clear voice.
Political slogans stamped on coins aren't unique to this period in Irish history, nor certainly not to Ireland itself. However, to my knowledge no other conflict or political movement has produced such a plethora of examples. While I've documented many individual pieces and slogans / acronyms here, there are undoubtedly many yet undiscovered. In sheer volume I would guess that tens of thousands of coins were counterstamped, mostly during the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s and 80s. Examples still surface today, but are much less frequently seen, and can be attributed to more recently formed organizations and contemporary political events. A good example would be Real IRA (RIRA) stamps commonly struck on high-value English coins.
Despite an intense effort to remove these defaced coins from circulation by the British government and destroy them, many still survive. I've been fortunate to have had contact with a small number of serious collectors who have educated me on many aspects of life during the Troubles. If one doesn't understand the history, they won't understand the coins.
A word on defaced and graffiti coins by way of tooling. Many examples of English and Irish coins have been seen that are abused in one way or another. Defacements can be categorized in one of three ways. They could have been issued to make a political statement... in this case concerning the English / Irish conflict... to simply represent an anti-monarchist point of view, or could have been issued for some obscure reason known only to the maker.Those that I feel with some certainty are conflict related are included in the body of the census. This category includes nearly all abused Hibernia coins. The remainder ofexamples are listed in the “Uncertain Meaning” section of the census, which also includes examples with punch-struck slogans / acronyms. My sense is that nearly all of these “uncertains” are conflict related, but I simply can't be sure. [Bruce R. Mosher, May 2020]
The collection inventory is at https://archive.org/details/IrishPoliticalTokenInventory.
The Belfast portion of the collection is divided into three sections:
Hunger Strikers: These 10 coins were issued in support of IRA and INLA prisoners who died as a result of a hunger strike at Long Kesh Prison from March 1 through August 20, 1981. The maker or makers are unknown.
Graffiti Coins: Graffiti coins are those that are tooled in some manner, be it with a chisel, knife, engraver or other sharp instrument. The tooling may include slogans, acronyms or political symbols. They are not counterstamped with a steel die or punch as the other coins are.
General: The remaining pieces. See additional commentary on the Belfast collection in the collection inventory link noted above.