Numismatists may be interested in a thin file labelled CENT/1/15/33A [partial scan] released under the 30/20 Year Rule and available to view at Public Records Office (PRONI) from 9am this morning. It documents discussions around the design of a regional variant of the one pound coin.
Former Secretary of State Jim Prior had been a fan of using the Irish Elk as a symbol for Northern Ireland which “had no recognised badge or arms of its own” and required “considerable pains” to be taken “to choose an emblem or motif which is broadly acceptable to both sides of the community”.
“An Elk represented upon a badge or shield purports to have the status of a Royal badge when in fact no Royal Warrant exists for such a design.”
Earlier papers from 1986 note that “the partition of Ireland has never … been recognised in Royal Heraldry and now would seem to be an appropriate time to recognise it by creating a new Royal Badge for Northern Ireland”.
In the end the 1986 redesign did not go ahead. A trawl for alternative suggestions among NI Permanent Secretaries” put forward the Irish wolfhound, but support was not universal, with one memo noting that it may annoy “NI dog-haters of whom there appear sometimes to be many”. Cuchulain – the hound of Ulster – was also considered.
The idea of a map of Northern Ireland was rejected as “not unequivocally non-sectarian and non-political” and the Giants Causeway “could be pictorially over-elaborate”, though a Department of Education official supplied a rough sketch.
That department also added Scrabo Tower, Slemish Mountain and Samson and Goliath to the long list, while the Department of the Environment suggested the potato plant (to replace the flax symbol).
By 1991, a compromise to use the elk but remove the shield (and negate the need for the Queen to grant a “politically contentious” new Royal Badge to Northern Ireland) placated the College of Heralds:
“Garter King at Arms is content with that.”
The NIO no doubt slid their elk-a-seltzer’s back into their desk drawers with the removal of this heraldic headache.
Of course, in the end, despite the agreement, the elk design never appeared on a £1 coin … but that’s a story for another file!