Hundreds of millions of punts still being eaten by rats and snails

Some €350 million punts remain unaccounted for 21 years after the euro’s introduction but the Central Bank’s money rescuers are standing by to convert your old money

Not long ago someone experienced a rollercoaster of emotions after finding a wad of cash that either they – or a family member – had buried in the ground for safekeeping a long, long time ago.

After the initial excitement of finding the money – old punts as it happened – they realised with dismay that the individual notes had not taken kindly to a damp life underground and had all stuck together in protest, making them worthless. Or so they thought.

They brought their money brick into the Central Bank where a team of money rescuers got to work. They soaked the pile of money “which looked like a sod of turf” in special chemicals before slowly peeling the notes apart over a period of several days, eventually rescuing thousands of punts which were then converted into more thousands of euro by the lucky finder of the old money.

It is one of the standout stories shared by the Central Bank team whose job it is to ensure that Ireland’s money keeps its value even when it is replaced by something else and ceases to be legal tender.


And there is a lot of that old money still out there. In fact just under €350 million punts remain unaccounted for 21 years after the introduction of the euro with potential windfalls on the table of anyone who can find the cash and have it cleared by the Central Bank.

First off the cold hard facts. As of December 31st, 2022 there was just over €223 million worth of Irish punts still in circulation while the number of old Irish coins still out there somewhere amounted to just under €123 million – that is a lot of loose change.

Money is still coming in more than 20 years after the euro replaced the Irish punt as legal tender in Ireland and over the course of 2022 €510,000 worth of punt notes were exchanged in 949 different transactions while €110,000 worth of coins were exchanged in 472 transactions.

Unlike vouchers, there is no expiry date on money and no time limit on when the Central Bank will swap out euros for punts and it has made provision just in case everyone who has the old currency suddenly decides to swap it for euro.

That seems unlikely at this stage. By the end of 2002, 90 per cent of punts had been taken out of circulation, leaving just under €463 million worth of old notes and coins which means that over the 20 years that followed, a further €116 million was handed in, an average of just under €6 million a year – but less than 10 per cent of than figure is now being exchanged each year.

So, where has all that money gone and are we ever likely to see it again?

It is impossible to say for sure where the money is but, according to Mr Money, more than 80 per cent of the punts that were never exchanged is probably gone forever – that is €277 million.

As to where the money is, again it is hard to say but we can look at where it has been found in times past. Cash has shown up in skips, buried in gardens and only uncovered when those gardens are dug up for extensions, under mattresses, in attics, behind wallpaper and in items of clothing donated to charity.

And what happens to the old notes when they are handed in? They are shredded, melted down and recycled.

“We know that people find old Irish pounds all the time, and may not even realise they or a family member had it,” says Bernard Sheridan of the Central Bank.

“Over the years we’ve heard many stories from people who’ve found old Irish pounds [and they] can be presented in a variety of standards, but generally they are in reasonable condition.

“During the exchange process, we verify the validity of the old pound and its authenticity. There is currently no time limit on the exchange service, so anybody who would like to exchange old Irish pounds, or have damaged euro notes or coins, can submit them at any stage. They can be exchanged via registered post, or by booking an appointment in the Central Bank’s public office in North Wall Quay.”

Last week Pricewatch met some of the Central Bank employees who are charged with looking after the old money. They were happy to talk about their work but – under instruction from the bank – could only do so if they were not identified “for security reasons”. So, for the purposes of this article we will refer to them as Mr Pounds, Ms Shillings and Mr Pence.

“It feels like something in CSI,” Pence says. “That is because of the level of detail that the team go into down there. Some of the money that comes in looks like sods of turf and the guys have to soak them in chemicals and kind of pull them apart. There’s a huge effort and a huge kick out of being able to give people money back.”

According to Pounds the money comes at them via many different avenues.

“Someone might have passed away and there’ll be money left under a mattress or found in a wardrobe. The amount that’s buried is incredible. We get a huge amount of money that’s been buried in plastic bags. People don’t realise that the money can decompose and snails and everything else gets through and starts eating it.”

He also points to punts left in attics where it is feasted on by rats.

“And then a lot of people seem to put it behind water pipes or in the hot press or whatever.”

And if water meets money, the money is the more often than not rendered useless.

“We have three dedicated staff who will painstakingly take time over submissions,” he says.

“Some could take an hour, some could take five hours or some could take five days. We got a block of money in recently and when I mean a block, it was buried in the ground. It was like it was like a concrete block. It took us a couple of weeks to separate those notes as they dried out you could you could separate them with a tweezers. And eventually that person got a certain amount of money and that was fantastic. Because they didn’t think they were getting anything.”

According to Shillings, the amounts the Central Bank gets can range from a few pennies to up to £20,000.

“We’ve had people who have bought an old property that’s been derelict for a number of years and there’s money in a tin in the attic. People have stored that money and it’s been forgotten about.”

So if you happen to buy a house or inherit it and then find a pile of cash it is yours and is the process of exchanging it simple?

The answers, Shillings makes clear, are no and no.

“We go through a fairly rigorous process,” she says. “If you found it in a property, we go through the legalities to see if you purchased the house as property only or property and contents just to establish who the owner is. Part of our role is to make sure that the right person gets the value.”

She also says that if a person brings in money and says it was found in a deceased parent’s house it is not just a simple case of doing the exchange.

“If there is a family with six or seven children in the family and one of the sons brings the money in and puts down his bank account details, that will be queried as to whether the money belongs to the estate, or whether that money was left to that person. We go through all the legalities.”

Pence interjects to make it clear that all exchanges are subject to anti-money laundering operations as well.

“I suppose the principle is if somebody hands over a large quantity of money to the Central Bank for verification, they may not necessarily be getting it back. [The process is] quite rigorous, that’s not to put people off but if there are large quantities, obviously, it needs to be investigated.”

Shillings also says that as well as ownership, the bank has to “authenticate the security features, we have to be able to tell that it’s a genuine banknote, and there has to be more than 50 per cent of that banknote present. So once it meets the criteria we’ll exchange it”.

The 51 per cent rule is important as it means that even if money looks to be in terrible shape, the money rescuers of the Central Bank will do what they can to save the cash and exchange it for the owner.

“We have received money in horrendous condition, in pieces and the team will work really, really hard to try and put together to try to get as much value as possible. Submissions can take a couple of months to go through because they do need to go through a drying out process and notes glued together have to be separated.”

Another point worth making is sometimes the notes are worth more than the exchange rate of €1.27 guaranteed by the Central Bank.

“Some of the banknotes that are in pristine condition are worth more than what you get for your 127,” says Pounds. “But that’s up to the person who sends them in. We can’t do anything once they come to us they are done.”

Pence nods.

“That is a delicate point. If people submit old notes, we assess them and if they’re valid, the person is reimbursed and those notes are destroyed. There is a series called the Ploughman; this series was one of the first notes of the new State and the notes are absolutely beautiful and worth an awful lot as an antique. People should be aware that, the notes they have, if they are in good condition [can be] worth an awful lot more than just the face value of it.”

He wants people to know that but says the Central Bank can’t get into the potential value of the notes they get and sometimes they will get very old notes in beautiful condition that have to destroy.

“You will see them every now and then and there are tears are in your eyes when you’re putting them into the shredder but that’s what that’s what has to happen,” Pounds says.

We had a look for the Ploughman notes online last week and found some fivers going for in excess of €1,000 on auction sites so it is not hard to see why shredding them might make a grown man cry alright.

When Pricewatch asks why the Central Bank puts so much effort into saving money that will ultimately be for the shredder and puts in that effort at no cost to the owner of the cash, Pounds says that the “whole thing about Central Bank money is that it has backing and if that Central Bank money gets damaged, then the Central Bank will look at it, it will give you a fair go on it”.

Pence agrees.

“There’s also kind of an obligation around the bringing in of the euro as well, you know. Just because a new currency has come in, it doesn’t mean everything else is valueless, you know, so it’s about serving the consumer, or the citizens, so they can have that assurance in holding Central Bank money.”

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