O’Brien Rare Coin Review: O’Reilly’s Money (1447-1459)


The much debated O’Reilly’s Money is often quoted in old Irish numismatic books and society papers. However, examples are very rare and few collectors seemed interested enough in them to add them to their cabinets in the early days of Irish numismatics. Most examples are hidden away in museum collections and rarely see the light of day.

  • As such, O’Reilly Money remains somewhat of a mystery to most Irish collectors
  • Very few seem to have been offered at auction over the past century
  • Since it is now illegal to use an ‘unlicensed’ metal detector in Ireland, it is highly unlikely that any more will be offered for sale in the future

Economic & Numismatic Background

In 1279, Edward I reformed the coinages of England and Ireland, and large-scale minting of good-quality silver pennies, halfpennies, and farthings resumed in Dublin, Waterford, and in Cork (1295).

Minting ceased again after circa 1302, and for the following century and a half very little Irish coinage was produced.

  • This was a consequence of the 14th C pan-European economic depression
  • It also reflected the substantial outflow of silver from Ireland in the 13th C

In the absence of new coinage, old, foreign, debased, and forged coins circulated widely in Ireland. Minting was revived under Edward IV (1461-1483) when the first attempt was made—at the insistence of the Anglo-Irish parliament—to develop a distinctive Irish coinage to a lower standard (i.e., containing less silver), which was less likely to flow out of the country.


Political Background

Shortly before his death, Henry V named his brother John of Lancaster, 1st Duke of Bedford, regent of France in the name of his son Henry VI of England, then only 9 months old.

  • Henry VI was the youngest person ever to succeed to the English throne
    • A few weeks later, on 21 October 1422, he became titular King of France upon his grandfather Charles VI’s death in accordance with the Treaty of Troyes of 1420.
    • His mother, Catherine of Valois, was then 20 years old and, as Charles VI’s daughter, she was viewed with considerable suspicion by English nobles and prevented from playing a full role in her son’s upbringing.
  • The early reign of young Henry VI was mostly presided over by regents 
    • On 28 September 1423, the nobles swore loyalty to Henry VI.
    • They summoned Parliament in the King’s name and established a regency council to govern until the King should come of age.
      • One of Henry V’s surviving brothers, John, Duke of Bedford, was appointed senior regent of the realm and was in charge of the ongoing war in France.
      • During Bedford’s absence, the government of England was headed by Henry V’s other surviving brother, Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, who was appointed Protector and Defender of the Realm.
      • Henry V’s half-uncle Henry Beaufort, Bishop of Winchester (after 1426 also Cardinal), had an important place on the Council.
  • It was not until 13 November 1437, shortly before his 16th birthday, that he obtained some measure of independent authority, but his growing willingness to involve himself in administration became apparent in 1434 when the place named on writs temporarily changed from Westminster (where the Privy Council was) to Cirencester (where the king was). 
    • He finally assumed full royal powers when he came of age
    • Henry, shy and pious, averse to deceit and bloodshed

After the death of King Henry V, England had lost momentum in the Hundred Years’ War, while, beginning with Joan of Arc’s military victories, the Valois gained ground.

  • The young Henry VI came to favour a policy of peace in France
    • This brought him into conflict with some members of his royal court
  • Richard, 3rd Duke of York, now Henry’s heir presumptive, was excluded from the court circle and sent to govern Ireland, while his opponents, the Earls of Suffolk and Somerset were promoted to Dukes, a title at that time still normally reserved for immediate relatives of the monarch
    • Although Richard never became king himself, he was the father of King Edward IV and King Richard III – the main protagonists in the War of the Roses
  • Richard, 3rd Duke of York was appointed Lieutenant of Ireland on 30 July 1445, although he did not actually arrive until June 1449
    • Richard was also Earl of Ulster and had considerable estates in Ireland, but it was also a convenient way of removing him from both England and France

In 1442, At the age of 21 Henry VI was legally old enough to rule unaided without assistance of a guardian but, by 1450, the defeats and failures of the English royal government of the previous decade boiled over into serious political unrest.

  • In January, Adam Moleyns, Lord Privy Seal and Bishop of Chichester, was lynched.
  • In May the chief councillor of the king, William de la Pole, 1st Duke of Suffolk, was murdered on his way into exile.
  • The House of Commons demanded that the king take back many of the grants of land and money he had made to his favourites.

In June, Kent and Sussex rose in revolt.

  • Led by Jack Cade (taking the name Mortimer), they took control of London and killed John Fiennes, 1st Baron Saye and Sele, the Lord High Treasurer of England.
  • In August, the final towns held in Normandy fell to the French and refugees flooded back to England.

From August 1453 until the end of 1454, the King’s mental health was such that he was unable to conduct the day-to-day government of the country.

  • The illness was some kind of mental condition possibly inherited from his grandfather Charles VI of France who also suffered from bouts of madness
  • 1554 – With the King unable to govern, the queen with the support of the powerful Neville earls gave Richard, Duke of York the position of ‘Protector of England’
    • Several changes were made,
      • one of which was to make the elder Richard Neville chancellor.
      • Richard, Duke of York also made himself the Captain of Calais removing his rival the Earl of Somerset from the post
    • In December 1554, Henry returned to health and Edward, the Duke of York was removed from the position of Protector

England’s naval power was weak and the waters between France and England were filled with pirates. Sandwich, in Kent, had been attacked by the French in 1557 the year before.

  • To put an end to this problem, the Earl of Warwick, the Captain of Calais, commanded a fleet of ships to patrol the English Channel.
    • His fleet attacked and captured Spanish and Genoese ships taking prisoners and treasure.
  • By 1460, with the Yorkists in control of the seas around the south coast of England, the Earl of Warwick was able to leave Calais and sail to Ireland where the Duke of York had taken refuge.
    • There they planned their invasion of England and the defeat of the Lancastrians
    • The War of the Roses was nearing the end of its first phase

Meanwhile, in Ireland, the Anglo-Norman colony was under severe pressure from the native Irish and The Pale was rapidly shrinking – even the city of Dublin was now threatened. The Irish, particularly those of Ulster, began to unite and attack the colonists, and some of the colonists began paying black-rent or protection money to the Irish chieftains.

However, the Anglo-Irish lords held sway over the more profitable and populous areas. A young king ruling via competing regents, distracted by the Hundred Years War in France and political unrest in England meant that these Irish lords tried to gain control of royal lands in Ireland for themselves.

  • 1424 – upon the application of James Butler, Earl of Ormond, Lord deputy, it was ordered in council that the mayor and citizens of Dublin should have in prest the sum of £40 to enable them to aid the Lord deputy in an expedition against the McMahon’s, Magennis’s, O’Donnell’s, and other Irish enemies then in rebellion
  • 1429 – Henry VI offers a £10 to every liege man of the King who will build a castle in Dublin, Meath Kildare and Louth within ten years
  • 1447 – Large number died in Dublin of a plague and famine this year, which afflicted all parts of the Kingdom 
  • 1447 – An Act passed outlawing the clipping of coins, the use of O’Reyley’s (O’Reilly) Money and other unlawful money
  • 1450 – As a possible heir to throne of England, Richard, Duke of York returned from Ireland where he had been placed as lieutenant by the Duke of Somerset who had possible aspirations of taking the throne for himself.
    • Richard along with the other Welsh land owners were finding it hard to retain the earnings they were making from their own lands.
  • 1457 – An Act passed to prevent the export of silver from Ireland
    • All merchant strangers are taxed at 40 pence in the pound
    • A fine of 20 shillings is applied for every penny not declared
  • 1459 – Richard, Duke of York, was convicted of treason against King Henry VI and lost his title of Lieutenant of Ireland
    • Despite this, the Anglo-Irish parliament confirmed him as leader and declared Ireland independent of English law.
      • There had long been tension between the English of Ireland and of England and this would lead to the Geraldine Rebellion at the end of the 15th C
      • It would appear that the Hiberno-Norman barons were more interested in autonomy than the commoners or native Irish (who seemed content with their black rents
  • 1463 – An Act passed preventing the use of clipped coins

O’Reilly Money

O’Reilly’s Money (le money del Oraylly or Argent irrois appelle Raillyes) is first mentioned in January 1447 (or, 1448 by our calendar), when an Anglo-Irish parliament met at Trim, and its legislation included the following:—

‘Also, for as much as the clipping of the coin of our lord the King has caused divers men in this land of Ireland to counterfeit the said coin, to the extreme hurt and destruction of the said land, and the making of gold bridles and poitrels also has wasted and consumed the gold of the said land for the greater part, and is like to do more hereafter, if it be not speedily remedied; wherefore it is ordained and agreed by authority of this present parliament that no money so clipped be received in any place of the said land from the first day of May next to come, nor the money of Oraylly or any other unlawful money, provided that a coiner be ready at the said day to make the coin. And also that no man be so daring henceforward as to use any bridles of gold, poitrels or any other harness of gold in any place of the said land, except knights and prelates of holy Church; and if any man be found with any such bridle, poitrel or any other harness of gold from the same day, that it shall be lawful for every man who will, to take the said man, his horse and harness, and to possess it as his own goods.’

It would appear that O’Reilly Money was circulating in such volumes as to cause an Act of Parliament to be passed outlawing its production and usage. The law passed in 1447 seems to have had little effect on the supply of this coinage for, in December 1456 a similar parliament convened this time at Naas ordained:—

‘Also, at the request of the Commons. Whereas this land of Ireland is greatly impoverished from one day to another by the great withdrawing, taking and carrying out of the said land into England, of silver plate, broken silver, bullion, and wedges of silver made of the great clipping of the coin of our sovereign lord the King, by his Irish enemies and English rebels within the said land, by which his said coin is diminished and greatly impaired, and the Irish silver called Reilly’s increase from one day to another, to the great injury and impoverishment of his said people of this his said land, and annihilation of his said coin. Whereupon the premises considered, It is ordained, established and provided by authortyi of said parliament that for every ounce of broken silver, bullion and wedges of silver, taken by any person or persons out of the said land, the said person or persons to pay, satisfy and content to the King, twelve pence of each ounce for custom, to be received by the hands of his customers for the time being; except lords and messengers going into England upon the business of the land, who may take plate with them according to their degree.’ 

Hoard evidence suggests that ‘clipping’ was a major problem in the 15th C and, according to the legislation wording, there seems to be a connection between ‘clipping’ and forgery, i.e. the silver clippings were being melted down and manufactured into counterfeit coins.

The fact that they are also described as Argent irrois (“Irish silver”) by the Hiberno-Normans strongly suggests that they were coins that “purported” to be silver, i.e. some sort of ‘silver plated’ fake (contemporary counterfeit).

O’Reilly’s Money has been identified by Michael Dolley as “plated copies of the clipped English groat of the last half of the 14th and first half of the 15th centuries.”

  • The clipped groats usually weigh in the region of 30 grains, and the Dublin specimen, which is without provenance, in fact weighs just over 29 grains.
  • Less frequently both groats and half-groats also were cut down to “penny” size

It can be shown from the Pettigo hoard that the method of manufacture was known in the Lough Erne area immediately to the north-west of Breffny, and no less significantly it is Oldcastle, in the heart of “O’Reilly’s country”, which has provided the largest recorded hoard of the prototypes – 71 ‘clipped’ English groats.

In April 1852, at Pettigo in Co. Fermanagh, an interesthig group of forgeries were found

  • Counterfeit Scottish groats were produced by hammering thin sheets of silver over actual coins and then pairing up the resultant cliches with a lead-solder core.
    • These ‘plated’ groats were produced in the same way
    • The finished coins appear to be ‘clipped’groats and passed as such
  • The Ulster Museum has a similarly produced counterfeit of a Calais groat of Henry VI
  • The National Museum of Ireland has what appears to be a a contemporary forgery of an Anglo-Irish groat of Edward IV

This is not a new type of counterfeiting – it was attempted on a wide scale in Viking times when ‘plated forgeries’ of Anglo-Saxon pennies (of which only the odd specimen is known today) resulted in systematic physical tests being carried out on the great majority of the coins which found their way to Scandinavia – virtually tens of thousands of coins exhibiting the all too familiar “pecks” (test marks).

Examples of O’Reilly’s Money

Clipped English groats and half-groats (Edward Ill-Henry VI) in the Ulster Museum

Group A—groats cut down to make the larger denomination

O'Reilly Money - Edward III, pre-Treaty issues, London mint, ex Grainger coll., wts. 29.6, 29.1 and 28.8 grains

O’Reilly Money – Edward III, pre-Treaty issues, London mint, ex Grainger coll., wts. 29.6, 29.1 and 28.8 grains

O'Reilly Money - Edward III, pre-Treaty issue, London mint, ex O'Connor coll. (Newry), wt. 32.8 grains

O’Reilly Money – Edward III, pre-Treaty issue, London mint, ex O’Connor coll. (Newry), wt. 32.8 grains

O'Reilly Money - Henry V, Brooke type C, mullet on rt. shoulder, London mint, ex Belfast Natural History and Philosophical Society, wt. 26.7 grains

O’Reilly Money – Henry V, Brooke type C, mullet on rt. shoulder, London mint, ex Belfast Natural History and Philosophical Society, wt. 26.7 grains

O'Reilly Money - Henry VI, annulet issue, Calais mint, ex Belfast Natural History and Philosophical Society, wts. 37.0 and 32.0 grains

O’Reilly Money – Henry VI, annulet issue, Calais mint, ex Belfast Natural History and Philosophical Society, wts. 37.0 and 32.0 grains


Group B—groat cut down to make the smaller denomination

O'Reilly Money - Henry VI, annulet issue, Calais mint, ex McConiskey coll., wt. 17.0 grains

O’Reilly Money – Henry VI, annulet issue, Calais mint, ex McConiskey coll., wt. 17.0 grains

Group C—half-groats cut down to make the smaller denomination

O'Reilly Money - Edward III, post-Treaty issue, London mint, ex Grainger coll., wt. 18.8 grains

O’Reilly Money – Edward III, post-Treaty issue, London mint, ex Grainger coll., wt. 18.8 grains


O'Reilly Money - Edward III, pre-Treaty or Treaty issue?, London mint, ex Swan coll. (Donegal), wt. 19.0 grains

O’Reilly Money – Edward III, pre-Treaty or Treaty issue?, London mint, ex Swan coll. (Donegal), wt. 19.0 grains

O’Reilly Money – Henry VI, pinecone/mascle issue, Calais mint, ex O’Connor coll. (Newry), wt. 13’9 grains. [not illustrated].

Clipped Anglo-Irish groat (Edward IV) in the Ulster Museum

O'Reilly Money - Edward IV English type, light issue, G on breast, Coffey, pp. 32/3, Nos. 32-33 (roses in 2nd and 4th quarters) ex O'Connor coll. (Newry), wt. 19.3 grains

O’Reilly Money – Edward IV English type, light issue, G on breast, Coffey, pp. 32/3, Nos. 32-33 (roses in 2nd and 4th quarters) ex O’Connor coll. (Newry), wt. 19.3 grains


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s