Wood's Coinage

Justin McCarthy
Chapter VIII | Start of Chapter

Swift was not an Irishman in the real meaning of the word. He was born in Ireland, but would not have lived there if the choice had been open to him. If he did pass a great part of his life there it was only because his duties compelled him to. Even while in Ireland his friends were always found among the English and Protestant residents, and he had very little sympathy with what Irishmen regarded as their national and political cause. But at the same time Swift had an instinctive revolt against injustice and an instinctive sympathy with those whom he believed to be suffering from oppression. He became aroused to indignation by the action of the Government in granting a patent to a person named William Wood for the coinage of halfpence and farthings to be used as currency by the Irish people. There had been for some time a great complaint in Ireland because of the want of an adequate supply of copper coinage for the use of those who employed the labour of the poor. The Government had at last been prevailed upon to invite tenders from the owners of mines for the supply of the necessary material. William Wood was the owner of iron and copper mines, and also a worker in these metals. He obtained a patent from the Government for the coining of halfpence and farthings to the value of £108,000. This aroused great indignation in Ireland, not merely among the governed, but even among the governing classes. The Irish Lord Chancellor and the two Houses of Parliament in Ireland set themselves against the patent, first because it was unlawfully granted, and next because it was contended that the coins were to be less in weight than those which had currency in England. For once the classes who were sent to rule Ireland and the classes they ruled were in absolute accord in their resentment of what they believed to be a national grievance.