O’Brien Banknote Guide: The Killarney Bank (William Murphy)

The Old Currency Exchange is Ireland's leading dealer in old coins, tokens and banknotes for discerning collectors.

The Killarney Bank

This ‘bank’ does not appear to have ever been registered and, if the stories about are anything to go by, its lack of official registration is easily explained. The bank was run by one William Murphy – a saddler in the town of Killarney – and his notes were used as small change within the town and its environs.

Killarney Bank Promissory Notes

For such a small bank, no less than 10 different promissory notes are known to collectors: they are smaller and less ornate than most notes of the time but most examples show quite lot of wear, which suggests they circulated well and often.

  • Three-pence (3d)
  • Four-pence (4d, or a groat)
  • Sixpence ha’penny (6½d) – equivalent to One British Sixpence
  • Eight-pence ha’penny (8½d)
  • Nine-pence (9d)
  • One shilling & a penny (1s 1d) – equivalent to One British Shilling
  • One shilling & sixpence (1s 6d)
  • One shilling & seven-pence ha’penny (1s 7½d)
  • Three shillings & three-pence (3s 3d)
  • Three shillings & nine-pence ha’penny (3s 9½d) – or, One Sixth of an English Guinea

Murphy’s Poor Reputation

There are several anecdotes from various numismatic, local history and learned society articles about this Mr Murphy. Apparently, he had an erratic cashflow but, once he made a big sale (e.g. a nice saddle) he could periodically afford to redeem his paper for hard cash.

Excerpt from “The History of Banking in Ireland” (James William Gilbart, 1836)

A book published a few years ago, entitled, “The Clubs of London,” contains the following humorous account of a bank that issued small notes.
“To speak of the banking system in Ireland during the late war, and, indeed, at the present day,” said an Irish gentleman, one evening at Brookes Club, “is as bad as talking of a fire that a man who has been burnt out and lost all his property in the flames. To such an extent was this species of robbery carried, at one time, that provincial or country notes were issued for sums so low as threepence; whilst those for six shillings were actually accounted high.”
Another gentleman having expressed amazement at this state of things; the first speaker gave the following instance of the truth of his assertion:-
“In the town of Killarney,” said he, “was one of those banks; the proprietor of which was a kind of saddler whose whole stock in that trade was not worth but forty shillings but which forty shillings, if that much, is the entire amount of his capital in the banking concern.”
“I once accompanied a large party of English ladies and gentlemen to that enchanting spot where, having amused ourselves for a few days, we were on the point of returning to Dublin, when one of the party recollected that he had in his possession a handful of the saddler’s paper. Accordingly we all set out, by of sport, to have them exchanged; one principal object being to see and converse with the proprietor of such a bank.”
Having entered the shop, which barely sufficed to admit the whole company, we found the banking saddler hard at work, making a straddle. One of the gentlemen thus addressed him:”
“Good morning to you, Sir.”
“I presume you are the gentleman of the house.”
“At your service, ladies and gentlemen,”returned the saddler.
“It is here, I understand, that the bank is kept?” continued my friend.
“You are just right, Sir.” replied the mechanic.
“This is the Killarney Bank, for want of a better.”
My friend then replied
“We are on the eve of quitting your town and as we have some few of your notes, which will be of no manner of use to us elsewhere, I’ll thank you for cash for them.”
The banker replied,
“Please your honour, what is that?”
“Is it anything in the leather line?”
“I have a beautiful saddle here, as ever was put across a horse;
 good and chape, upon my say so.”
“How much of my notes have you, Sir, if you please?”
This question, required some time to answer, calculation being necessary.
My friend counted them out as follows:
Notes tendered at The Killarney Bank, Co Kerry

Promissory notes allegedly tendered at The Killarney Bank, Co Kerry

“There, Sir.” said he “There are no less than sixteen of your promissory notes to pay, for the amazing large sum of 15 shillings and 9 pence Sterling money.”
“I should be sorry, most noble” returned the banker “to waste any more of your Lordship’s time, or of these sweet beautiful ladies and gentlemen; but I have an elegant bridle here, as isn’t to be matched in Yoorup, Aishy, Afrikey, or Merikey; it’s lowest price is 15s & 6; and we’ll say 13s & 6d to yer Lordship. If ye’ll be pleased to accept of it, there will be twopence-halfpenny, or a three-penny note coming to your Lordship; and that will close the business at once.”
Local banks like this probably functioned well at a local economy level but, one someone tried to cash in a large sum, the proprietor would struggle to come up with the cash in good silver or gold.

Suspension of Cash Payments, 1797

On 27th February 1797, the Bank of England ceased to convert its deposit notes to gold specie in order to prevent a complete drain on its gold reserve.

A few days after the suspension the Parliament authorised the Bank of England to issue previously prohibited notes of a face value less than £5 to help with the shortage of circulating coins and notes.

  • Almost immediately, any gold or ‘good’ silver coins disappeared to hoards
  • There was almost no ‘legal tender’ currency in circulation
  • Most of what did circulate was either counterfeit, clipped or tokens
  • People, who had used only coin in the past, were now forcibly introduced (by necessity) to ‘inconvertible’ paper money

The economy responded by opening small banks outside of the cities and large towns. And, in smaller towns, local tradesmen opened ‘unregistered’ banks and issued their own notes. The Killarney Bank, run by Mr Murphy was one such unregistered establishment.



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