WHEN electrician Toddy Stafford gathered together some old Irish coins from his impressive collection at home, he struck gold with the residents at the Cobh hospital where he volunteers, sparking nostalgic memories and lots of joy.
“I grew up next to the hospital and my family were always involved in this place, which is owned by the town,” says Toddy.
“I’ve been volunteering at the hospital for years and made great friends with the residents and the staff over the years. We enjoy so much cráic and banter together.”
Toddy spreads the joy.
“My own family are always involved in the annual Christmas swim and the annual garden fete pre-Covid that helped to fundraise for the hospital. They are called upon to help out and they love doing it.”
Toddy had a novel idea relating to his coin collection that would get the residents talking and help them to remember some rare old times.
“I noticed that a regular topic of conversation that seemed to come up a lot among the residents was the price of different items in old Irish currency,” says Toddy.
“I’m an electrician by trade and I do a bit of maintenance in the hospital and I noticed the residents talked about what a two bob looked like, or the old shilling.
“There seemed to be this huge attachment to old coins for some of the residents, but none of them had any old coins to hand.”
The price of one particular item was often the topic of conversation among the residents.
“The old price of the pint was often discussed jokingly,” says Toddy.
“So I had the idea to get together a collection of old Irish coins for the residents to keep in their living area where they could see them and chat about them.
“One rainy Sunday, I got the coins all together in a framed display to bring in; I thought the residents would be pleased - but they were absolutely delighted.
“I thought, I must do that because the residents often talked about the price of things long ago and what they could buy for a shilling or a half crown, for instance,” says Toddy.
“Hours of conversation and cráic came from the old coins and even those patients affected by dementia had memories come to them when they saw the old coins that they would have used in their youth.”
When did Toddy begin collecting coins?
“My grand-uncle Dan would throw us a ‘lob’ or a three-penny bit on our way back from school,” says Toddy.
“I began collecting three-penny bits and I have probably a thousand coins at home, some of them date back to the 1700s.
“When the residents saw the old coins that I framed for them; they were, delighted talking about old memories. They were really enthusiastic and very nostalgic about times gone by. The coins prompted great memories of long ago.”
The half crown was a popular coin.
“Lots of people remembered getting a half-crown for their Holy Communions and that inspired a lot of talk about childhood memories,” says Toddy.
“They all know me so we had great conversations about the coins.”
The guinea or twenty-one shillings was popular among the ‘horsey crowd’.
“Horses were bought and sold in guineas,” says Toddy. “I don’t think we have anybody here connected with horses!”
Toddy often wondered if, in the course of his job as an electrician, he would unearth more old coins, or even valuable ones.
“In a house I did once, it was rumoured that gold sovereigns were hidden under the floor boards during the time of the Black and Tans; unfortunately I never came across any gold sovereigns!”
Helen Bates used to work at the Tower cinema in Cobh. She says: “I remember admission to the cinema was one and four pence, and one and eight pence for the seats at the back. They were jumbo seats and the courting couples liked them!
“And it was only four pence for a seat at the front and all the lads from Belmont sat there. They were good lads and no trouble, even though they giggled a lot.”
Danny McCrossan, who liked a pint in the local, remembers paying 17 old pence (22 cents today) in pre-decimalisation times for a pint.
“I’m sure a pint was 17 old pence in 1970,” says Danny, who was a great footballer in his day.
“And it was a shilling to get into the dance-hall.”
Was that good value for money?
“If you got no shift, it was no good,” says Danny laughing.
The price of a car was priced in pounds, shilling and pence.
“A price of a car could be 91 pounds, 21 shillings and 60 pence,” says Danny, who knows his prices.
Toddy has displayed a fascinating array of old coins, from the farthing, the penny, the two pence, the threepenny bit, the sixpence, the shilling, the florin, (two shillings), and the half-crown, to the old 1 pound note now mounted on the wall of the living room for people to see and to prompt memories
“We’re missing the old red 10 shilling note,” observes Danny.
“You were well off if you had a few of those!"
In the living room at Cobh hospital, murals of the town adorn the walls, displaying familiar features that the residents recognise and talk about.
“We use reminiscence as a powerful tool in our work,” explains activities coordinater, Phil Toft.
“For each person, jogging memories follows a path leading to a story. Reminiscence is a great tool.
“We were talking about how many sweets you could get for a half crown this afternoon. Long-term memory is triggered, people can go back in their minds to a different era that they recall during the course of conversation.”
Money is always a good topic of conversation.
“Talking about the old coins is a great ice-breaker,” says Phil.
“During our chats I can ask, do tell me about this or that. It is great therapy for people with dementia. They talk about general family stuff - and the men have a great conversation about the old price of the pint; that was a big deal!”
Money was often scarce back in the day.
“People didn’t save money, when they got paid they paid off ‘the book’ at the grocers or the drapers.”
Director of nursing, Erica Mulvihill, says working on projects based on reminiscence is very beneficial to the clients at the hospital.
“Whether it is discussing the old history of Cobh or old coins, it brings people with dementia down memory lane.
“The murals in the living room prompt recollection and more stories. We hear of past knowledge and we are learning both ways,” says Erica.
Will Toddy continue collecting old Irish coins?
“Yes, it is a hobby, and an interesting one that gives people enjoyment.”
He unearthed other things when he was working in the sensory garden opened 10 years ago at the hospital.
“The old dispensary clinic was on the hospital grounds,” says Toddy.
“It was a local clinic and two doctors were based here.
“I found old medicine bottles that were buried in the garden. They are displayed in the living room too.”
There are lots of things for residents to talk about in Cobh hospital, where new memories come the fore every day.
“The collection of old Irish coins was a great success among the residents,” says Toddy.
He must include another note.
“I must find a 10 shilling note to complete the old collection of currency."