I was happy to find out that I had to go to Dublin for a few days. You guessed it right, I started to look for a coin museum to fill my free time. Unfortunately, I only had a short time to prepare, so I didn’t have time to do much reading. Instead, I contacted the National Museum of Ireland to schedule a visit. I had to admit, I knew very little about the museum, for that matter, I didn’t even know much about Irish coins. So, when I got the obvious question, what was it I wanted to learn about, I said, well, Irish coins. I figured no matter what they have, probably it would be a great opportunity to learn about the rich coinage of a small nation right there, just guessing, but it is hard to imagine that any other place would have a good overview of Irish coins. Though I had no idea, I got it right. The exhibit was outstanding, so was my experience.
I think it was about one week before my trip that I got to talk with somebody from the museum, and honestly, I didn’t have any hopes, it was my fault, I figured I’m happy with anything, and if it doesn’t work out, there is another time. Well, not sure when. Now I know, I would go to Dublin if only for this museum. Ireland, however, is a relatively certain destination for the future, as my wife is of Irish origin, and I would like to take the kids there one day.
So, I was happy when Kristy Moynan was very responsive and accommodating, and assured me that she will come up with something. To make things more difficult, I had a very strict schedule to work with, I had to squeeze my visit between work and the closest reasonable flight home. Ok, I didn’t really, but this time I wasn’t about to take much vacation to stay longer, I’d rather do that with the family one day.
I have a few Irish coins, some of the ones I have are among my favorite ones, but these are only from the last 60 years or so. I even made a note to read up on money in Ireland but somehow I just didn’t have time for it, and I wish I took it more seriously. This is definitely something that is on my immediate numismatic to do list.
When I got to the museum Sandra Heise greeted me. She took me inside the museum, through some old and narrow corridors, they definitely had some sort of an ancient smell and sound. Just the perfect atmosphere for a museum. Sometimes I don’t even understand why they have nice modern buildings hosting ancient history.
The topic of the exhibit Sandra showed me was Irish coinage over the last thousand years. It was housed in several rooms, glass cases on the wall contained different number of coins, each coin held on the board by three nail looking pieces, so only one side of the coin was visible. There was information about each coin.
I have never touched anything like this before. I had no idea if this is how they show coins in museums, or is it only here.
But now came the surprise. Sandra showed me each one of these coins. I don’t know how many coins they had on display, but for the next three hours, until the museum closed, she showed me hundreds of coins, all the way from the 900’s until the 1800’s. She read the explanation of every one of these coins. It was amazing to feel the history of Irish coins. I haven’t had many chances to touch such old coins, in general. I have a few, and I touched a few more in coin stores, but most of them are either expensive, or are contained so that it is impossible to touch. Also, these coins, for the most part, especially given their age, are very good quality, so I could feel much of the detail.
I have to admit, I would not be able to recall many of the coins I touched. It was just way too much material to even try to remember. But the takeaway was the general understanding of Irish coinage, the types, sizes, textures, some of the more typical details, etc. I had an overview that doesn’t compare to any of my previous experiences. I don’t even have a similar understanding of Hungarian coins like I received this time about Irish coinage.
It was great that Sandra took out some of the coins which were more loose so I could hold them. One of the most exciting ones were the pistoles from the 1640’s, which are the only gold coins Ireland struck. Of course, these were replicas, but let’s face it, I would never know if she didn’t tell me. It was so great.
Another takeaway was that if I want to get Irish coins for my collection, I will exactly have an idea what I would like and in what kind of quality. Often when I get a new coin, it is a surprise, sometimes far from what I expect. For example, I was very excited to get a 500 years old Hungarian coin. It is still great to hold such a piece of history, but the coin itself is not exciting. Though they say it is a better looking one, for me it is almost a smooth piece of silver. If I wanted to get an Irish coin, I could probably pick one much better which I would enjoy having.
It is hard to just write about a numismatic experience, because there is so much more to a trip like this. Also, numismatics is only a connection to events, people and experience that it is hard to view it separately.
Ireland in many ways reminds me of Hungary. A small nation, complex history, an unusual language. These nations can only survive if we all care about them. We all have to take responsibility for the language, the culture, the heritage. I asked Sandra, for example, why would one learn Irish. Her response was, because it is beautiful. Of course. Why else would somebody learn a language? I was so glad to hear this as an obvious answer. I have read articles and books and comparisons on the usefulness of different languages. I originally meant to ask about the practical approaches. But it’s really not that important. I never heard anybody telling me that I should learn English because it is beautiful, though, I think it is, otherwise I wouldn’t have spent years studying US literature. But English will probably live in some shape or form if we use it as a tool. Irish and Hungarian will only survive if we love them.
Besides the language, the food is also worth a word or two. Ten years ago when we were in Ireland, we had such a hard time finding real Irish food. There was good stuff all around, but as international as one would find in any big city. This time, I didn’t even have high hopes, I had very little time to explore, so I was very delighted to learn that besides the touristy junk, the hotel’s restaurant served great stew and ox cheeks. I don’t have enough comparison to know how authentic they were, but the food was great, and nothing like I’d eat somewhere else. And it also didn’t hurt that after a long day I didn’t have to walk out into the rain to get a pint of Guinness.
But back to collecting, as always, I didn’t miss saving a few coins from pocket change, and I think I learned a lesson. No matter what’s my next destination, I’ll spend more time reading and learning before the trip. I usually do, but from now on I won’t allow myself any excuses. It is not worth it.
Again, a great museum visit. Special thanks to Kristy, Sandra, and all the other people who made it happen.
It is interesting that most times when I go to a museum, I don’t have a clue which will be the next one. Mostly, somewhere where life takes me, which is not too predictable these days. It is hard to plan and prepare for these visits, but to be honest, I think this is the beauty of it.