Northern Ireland news

Story of how two women, from Donegal and US, appeared on currency of each other's country

Lady Hazel Lavery was chosen as the face on the first Irish Punt, while Donegal's Mary Cunningham was selected to appear on the American Ten Dollar coin

THE story behind how two women, one born in Donegal and the other in the United States, appeared on the currency of each other's country has been told in a new documentary.

Mary Cunningham from the Donegal Gaeltacht became the face of America's ten dollar gold coin, while Chicago-born Hazel Lavery graced the first banknote of a newly independent Ireland.

People carried their images around for years, they treasured them and looked at them every day, and yet the two women who featured on the currencies have "been almost forgotten and their amazing stories have never really been told - until now".

The TG4 history documentary, Áille ar Airgead, follows the very different lives of the two women.

Mary Cunningham hailed from An Charraig in the Donegal Gaeltacht, but emigrated to America with six brothers and one sister.

She was waitressing when she caught the eye of the famous sculptor Augustus Saint Gaudens and he selected her to become the face of 'Liberty'.

Dressed in Native American headgear, she featured on what later became the most controversial gold coin ever minted in the US, due to the prejudice against the Irish at the time.

Gaudens was also Irish - born in Dublin in 1848, he was the son of a French shoemaker, Bernard Paul Ernest Saint-Gaudens and Mary McGuinness from Co Longford.

They emigrated to America when he was six-months-old.

And while a "poor" country girl from south west Donegal represented Liberty on the US gold dollar, it was a rich American woman who ended up appearing on the first banknote of a newly independent Ireland.

Born in Chicago, Hazel Martin was of wealthy parentage and later went on to marry the renowned Irish artist John Lavery, who was originally from north Belfast.

Lady Lavery was chosen by her husband to be the face of 'Caitlín Ní Uallacháin', representing Ireland when he was commissioned to design the new punt banknotes for the Irish Free State.

Her picture was on Irish government currency for more than 50 years.

TG4 said: "While the two women never met and belonged to different social circles, their stories overlap in terms of theme and chronology.

"Áille ar Airgead weaves their narratives together in an elegant and artistic way that gives a fresh insight into life and society in the early 20th century in both Ireland and the USA."

Antaine Ó Donnaile from Macha Media, which produced the documentary, said: "It was a privilege for us produce this film on two remarkable women.

"Their fascinating personalities and experiences give us a fresh insight into Irish, British and American history.

"Hazel and Mary lived during a pivotal time at the dawn of the 20th century, they rubbed shoulders with characters ranging from the celebrated artist Augustus Saint-Gaudens to the military leader Michael Collins, and their stories encourage us to reflect on gender, identity and the role of women in society, all of which are still relevant today."

The documentary, produced with support from Northern Ireland Screen's Irish Language Broadcast Fund, is on TG4 on September 29 at 9.30pm and on the TG4 Player.

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