O’Brien Banknote Guide: Five Pounds, Irish Banknote “B Series”


As early as 1971, the Central Bank of Ireland announced its intention to produce new banknotes to replace the long-lived Lady Lavery issue which had been printed by the Bank of England in London and circulating in Ireland since 1928. They sub-contracted the design phase to Servicon – an Irish design company, to design the notes of the denominations; £1, £5, £10, £20, £50 and £100.

  • The £100 note was never issued or circulated
  • The “B Series” is the only set of Irish banknotes without a note of this denomination
  • It has been speculated that a proposal to have Granuaile (the Irish Pirate Queen) feature on the “B Series” £100
    • It is rumoured that Servicon produced a proof of the £100 note (but none have been recorded)
    • It is also rumoured that Servicon “had some Pre-Production Designs (but none have been recorded)
    • Their existence has never been confirmed by Servicon or the Central Bank of Ireland

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, alongwith ‘complementing’ visual elements. The female head painted by Sir John Lavery was retained from Series A as a watermark and appeared in the blank space on each design.

  • Each banknote has the signature of the Governor of the Central Bank of Ireland and the Secretary of the Department of Finance
  • Variances in these signatures accounts for the 4 varieties (types) of this banknote

Foreign collectors found it difficult to legally acquire examples of the £50 note since, for much of the period of circulation of this series, foreign exchange controls prohibited the export of any notes larger than £20 from the Republic of Ireland. Of course, this probably didn’t cause too much of a problem for ‘determined’ collectors.

The “B Series” Five Pound Note

The five pound note was first issued in 1976 and circulated until the introduction of the so-called “C Series” of Irish banknotes in 1993.

  • Front: a portrait of Johannes Scotus Eriugena, the philosopher and theologian, of the ninth century. The letter A from the start of Psalm 17 of the Psalter of Ricemarch is used against the Book of Durrow.
  • Back: featured an adaptation of animal and script extracts from the Book of Kells, an eighth century copy of the gospels.
  • Size: 82 mm × 156 mm
1983 B Series £5 Banknote

1983 B Series £5 Banknote

The Ricemarch Psalter is an 11th-century Welsh illuminated psalter, in a late Insular style, that has been described as “Hiberno-Danish”, instead of the usual “Hiberno-Saxon”, as it reflects Viking influence. Its 159 pages are vellum, and include the following sections:

  • Letter of St. Jerome to Chromatius and Elidorus; Breviarius Apostolorum; Martyrologium Hieronymianum, and Various Tables.
  • It is one of two surviving manuscripts from the scriptorium at Llanbadarn Fawr in Wales, established by the father of the scribe and the first owner. The other is a manuscript of St. Augustine’s De Trinitate in Cambridge, by the same scribe.
  • The psalter is now at Trinity College, Dublin as MS 50

The Book of Durrow is the oldest extant complete illuminated Insular gospel book, for example predating the Book of Kells by over a century. The text includes the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, plus several pieces of prefatory matter and canon tables. Its pages measure 245 by 145 mm and there are 248 vellum folios. It contains a large illumination programme including six extant carpet pages, a full page miniature of the four evangelists’ symbols, four full page miniatures, each containing a single evangelist symbol, and six pages with significant decorated initials and text.

  • It is written in majuscule insular script (the block capitals of the day), with some lacunae.

The place of creation may perhaps have been Durrow Abbey in Ireland or a monastery in Northumbria in northeastern England (where the monastery at Lindisfarne would be the likely candidate) or perhaps Iona Abbey in western Scotland — the place of origin has been debated by historians for decades without a consensus emerging.

  • The Book of Durrow was certainly at Durrow Abbey by 916
  • Today it is also kept in the library at Trinity College, Dublin (MS A. 4. 5. (57))

The Book of Kells is an illuminated manuscript Gospel book in Latin, containing the four Gospels of the New Testament together with various prefatory texts and tables.

  • It was created in a Columban monastery in either Britain or Ireland or may have had contributions from various Columban institutions from both Britain and Ireland.
  • It is believed to have been created ca. 800 AD.

The text of the Gospels is largely drawn from the Vulgate, although it also includes several passages drawn from the earlier versions of the Bible known as the Vetus Latina. It is a masterwork of Western calligraphy and represents the pinnacle of Insular illumination.

  • The Book of Kells is also kept at Trinity College Library (MS A. I. (58))
  • It is also referred to as the Book of Columba
  • It is also widely regarded as Ireland’s finest national treasure.

How many “B Series” £5 notes were issued?

Scotus Type 1 8,000,000 1 date  1976
AAA 1 replacement
Type 2 54,500,000 5 dates  1976-77
AAA 2 replacements
Type 3 99,500,000 9 dates  1979-81
AAA 4 replacements
Type 4 109,500,000 7 dates 1983-87
AAA 5 replacements
Type 5 153,000,000 14 dates  1988-93
AAA, FFF 3 replacements

Five pound notes worth a total of £2,122,500,000 were issued.

There are 5 main varieties of this banknote, according to the signatures that appear on left-hand side of the note.

  • Type 1 (1976) – scarcer than normal, only 1 date / 8 million notes issued
    • Signatures = T. K. Whitaker & C. H. Murray
    • <no image yet>
  • Type 2 (1976-77)
    • Signatures = C. H. Murray & M. O Murchú
    • 1976-77 B Series £5, Type 2,  signatures T. K. Whitaker & C. H. Murray

      1976-77 B Series £5, Type 2, signatures T. K. Whitaker & C. H. Murray

  • Type 3 (1978-81)
    • Signatures = C. H. Murray & Tomás F. Ó Cofaigh
    • 1978-81 B Series £5, Type 3,  signatures C. H. Murray & Tomás F. Ó Cofaigh

      1978-81 B Series £5, Type 3, signatures C. H. Murray & Tomás F. Ó Cofaigh

  • Type 4 (1982-87)
    • Signatures = Tomás F. Ó Cofaigh & Maurice Doyle
    • 1982-87 B Series £5, Type 4,  signatures Tomás F. Ó Cofaigh & Maurice Doyle

      1982-87 B Series £5, Type 4, signatures Tomás F. Ó Cofaigh & Maurice Doyle

  • Type 5 (1988-93)
    • Signatures = Maurice Doyle & S. P. Cromien
    • 1988-93 B Series £5, Type 5, signatures Maurice Doyle & S. P. Cromien

      1988-93 B Series £5, Type 5, signatures Maurice Doyle & S. P. Cromien

Who was Scotus?

Johannes Scotus Eriugena (c. 815 – c. 877) was an Irish theologian, neoplatonist philosopher, and poet. The banknote designer ignored the fact that the name “Eriugena” is perhaps the most suitable surname form as he himself uses it in one manuscript.

  • It means ‘Ireland (Ériu)-born’. ‘Scottus’ in the Middle Ages was the Latin term for “Irish or Gaelic”, so his name translates as “John, the Irish-born Gael.”
  • The spelling ‘Scottus’ has the authority of the early manuscripts until perhaps the 11th century. Rather confusingly, he is also named ‘Scottigena’ (“Scot-born”) in the manuscripts – perhaps relating to the fact that the Irish colonised parts of Scotland at this time and may have seen it as an extension of Ireland.

He wrote a number of works, but is best known today, and had most influence in subsequent centuries, for having translated and made commentaries upon the work of Pseudo-Dionysius.

Educated in Ireland, Eriugena moved to France (c. AD 845) and took over the Palatine Academy at the invitation of Carolingian King Charles the Bald.

  • He succeeded Alcuin of York (735–804) as head of the Palace School.
  • The reputation of this school, part of the Carolingian Renaissance, seems to have increased greatly under Eriugena’s leadership, and the philosopher himself was treated with indulgence by the king.
  • Whereas Alcuin was a schoolmaster rather than a philosopher, Eriugena was a noted Greek scholar, a skill which, though rare at that time in Western Europe, was used in the learning tradition of Early and Medieval Ireland, as evidenced by the use of Greek script in medieval Irish manuscripts. He remained in France for at least thirty years, and it was almost certainly during this period that he wrote his various works.

His work is largely based upon Saint Augustine, Pseudo-Dionysius, Maximus the Confessor, and the Cappadocian Fathers, and is clearly Neoplatonist. He revived the transcendentalist standpoint of Neoplatonism with its “graded hierarchy” approach. By going back to Plato, he revived the nominalist-realist debate.

Eriugena’s work is distinguished by the freedom of his speculation, and the boldness with which he works out his logical or dialectical system of the universe. He marks, indeed, a stage of transition from the older Platonizing philosophy to the later scholasticism. For him philosophy is not in the service of theology.

  • The above-quoted assertion as to the substantial identity between philosophy and religion is repeated almost word for word by many of the later scholastic writers, but its significance depends upon the selection of one or other term of the identity as fundamental or primary.
  • For Eriugena, philosophy or reason is first, primitive; authority or religion is secondary, derived.

His influence was greater with mystics than with logicians, but he was responsible for a revival of philosophical thought which had remained largely dormant in western Europe after the death of Boethius.

  • After Eriugena another medieval thinker of significance was Berengar of Tours, professor at the monastic school in the French city. Berengar believed that truth is obtained through reason rather than revelation. St. Peter Damian agreed with Tertullian that it is not necessary for men to think because God has spoken for them.
    • Damian was prior of Fonte Avellana and afterward Cardinal-Bishop of Ostia.
    • He died in 1072. Lanfranc (1005–89) was prior of Bec in Normandy.
    • Like Damian he believed mostly in faith, but admitted the importance of reason.
    • St. Anselm was a pupil and successor of St. Peter Damian.

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