One of the attractions of medal and militaria collecting is the potential many items have for research. This becomes even more fascinating when every once in a while material emerges that we know very little about. A case in point are the Bonn na Dála silver medals that have appeared on the market in recent years. The purpose of this initial article is to generate discussion on this interesting silver medal and by sharing what little knowledge I have on the matter, as a group of collectors we may be able to gather enough historical evidence so that by analysing what we know, we can attempt to draw some conclusion about what this medal was awarded for.
Medal Description:- Set in the contest of the Celtic revival movement which had grown out of the increasing Irish nationalism of the nineteenth century, art and jewellery often revived earlier images of Celtic and Early Christian art. The Bonn na Dála medal is designed in this Irish Renaissance style and is shaped like a Celtic torc of the La Tene period, quite an appropriate design given the political situation at the time. Within the torc are classical La Tene, Celtic interlace motifs which to some degree are set in “panels” reminiscent of styles found on Christian monastic High Cross art. The interlocking design terminates at the top of the medal creating an attractively designed integral loop and a plain ring suspender. The words “Bonn na Dála” followed by the date “1921” or “1922” is engraved in Gaelic style script in an otherwise vacant rounded panel in the centre of the medal.
Translations from Irish. A number of translations have been given for the Gaelic words “Bonn na Dála, such translations into the English language include the “Dáil Award,” and the “Dáil Medal”. The Irish word “Bonn” can also mean “coin”. The most appropriate translation however I suggest is similar in meaning to the way the Meda society of Ireland use the Gaelic word “Bonn” in its title “Cumann Bonn na hÉireann thus Bonn is closest in translation to the word “medal” hence “Bonn na Dála translates “The Dáil Medal” or in a more literal translation “The Medal of the Dáil”
Known recipients of the Medal:- An Irish army Captain named Michael Ryan received a Bon na Dála medal - 1921 issue. Ryan (a young creamery clerk) as a Volunteer had service with the Mid Limerick Brigade Irish Volunteers from 1917 and served as a Lieutenant in the Free State army from its establishment, retiring as an Engineer Corps Captain in 1946. A second attributable medal is engraved on reverse “Séan MacGabhainn” This is a 1922 dated medal (author’s collection). To date I have found very little on any Séan MacGabhainn but I can say with certainty that there was no serving T.D. in Dail Eireann at that time, with that name. A third unnamed Bonn na Dála medal was sold at auction in Dublin in April 2006 along with a silver medal/fob inscribed “AF to M. O’Dowda” Given their association from the same source it is possible that this 1921 Bonn na Dála medal was the property of M. O’Dowda. O’ Dowda was a Post Office Telephone Engineer.
Details of Manufacture:- The 1921 Dáil Medal carries Dublin silver hallmarks for 1921 and has the makers mark of renowned Irish Silversmith Edmond Johnson. In 1921 Johnson Jewellers had shops at 94–95 Grafton Street and 44–45 Wicklow Street Dublin.
Number of surviving medals known:- I am aware of six such medals in total to date. Four 1921 issue i.e. Captain Ryan’s medal and three others sold over the past few years in Dublin auction houses. Two medals were sold on eBay, MacGabhainn’s and another 1922 type. Over the past couple of years I heard of Bonn na Dála medals being offered for sale privately. It may be that some/all of these were the same ones that found their way to Dublin Auctions and on-line auctions in recent times. Given the small numbers known, this is definitely a very scarce medal. The whereabouts of other similar medals would add considerably to making a more informed assessment of quantities awarded. To establish a list of known recipients of these medals is however vital in helping establish the reason for the award in the first instance.
Conclusion to date:-
- We can state with certainty that the medal was issued in 1921 and also in 1922. As no earlier or later dated examples are known, it appears likely that it was only issued twice. No undated examples are known.
- Given the date range 1921 to 1922, the medals could have been awarded at some stage during the lifetime of the First, Second and/or Third Dáil.
- The medal was given to military personnel in at least one case: Captain Ryan. It may also have been a civilian award but more data about known recipients is required before drawing any conclusions from this. There are some unsubstantiated suggestions that O’ Dowda the Post Office Telephone Engineer was associated with Michael Collins but research needs to be done in this respect.
- The belief that these medals were issued to elected members of the First Dáil (21st. January 1919 - 10th May 1921), Second Dáil (16th. August1921 - 8th. June 1922) or even the Third Dáil (16th. June 1922 - 9th August 1923) are inaccurate as neither Captain Ryan, O’Dowda nor Sean MacGabhainn were members of the Dáil at the time.