08 Aug 2022

How did a woman from Donegal become the face of the American ten dollar gold coin?

Áille ar Airgead follows the lives of two remarkable women, one who was born in Donegal, who became the face of America’s ten dollar gold coin and the other, born in the USA, 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.  But these beautiful women have been almost forgotten, and their amazing stories have never really been told - until now.

Mary Cunningham was Irish, she had emigrated to America from An Charraig in the Donegal Gaeltacht.  She was selected by the famous sculptor Augustus Saint Gaudens to become the face of ‘Liberty’ dressed in Native American headgear on the most controversial gold coin ever minted in America. Augustus Saint Gaudens was also Irish, he was born in Dublin in 1848, the son of a French shoemaker, Bernard Paul Ernest Saint-Gaudens, and Mary McGuinness, from County Longford. They emigrated to America when he was six months old. 

They were two very different women with very different lives. 

Lady Lavery, was born in was born in Chicago of wealthy Irish parentage. Her maiden name was Hazel Martin. Hazel was chosen by her husband, Irish artist John Lavery, 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.

While the 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 twentieth century in both Ireland and the USA

Áille ar Airgead was produced by Macha Media for TG4, with support from Northern Ireland Screen’s Irish Language Broadcast Fund.

Watch Wednesday, September 29 at 9:30pm or anytime on the TG4 Player.

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