Dublin University, founded in 1854, was the first organised Rugby Football Club in Ireland. Students at the University had first learnt the game while at English Public Schools. Other clubs which were formed at the time and are still in existence include, Wanderers founded in 1869; Lansdowne (1873); Dungannon (1873); UCC (1874); Co. Carlow (1873); Ballinasloe (1875); NIFC (1868); Queen's University (1869).
Ballinasloe and Athlone amalgamated in 1994 to form Buccaneers.From 1874 to 1879 there were two Unions. The Irish Football Union had jurisdiction over Clubs in Leinster, Munster and parts of Ulster; the Northern Football Union of Ireland controlled the Belfast area. When the first International was played against England in February 1875, the teams were twenty a side and the Irish team included 12 players from Leinster and eight from Ulster. The first fifteen a side match was in 1877 and the first Munster players were chosen in 1879.
In 1879 the two Unions agreed to amalgamate on the following terms:
(i) A Union to be known as the Irish Rugby Football Union was to be formed for the whole country.
(ii) Branches were to be formed in Leinster, Munster and Ulster.
(iii) The Union was to be run by a Council of eighteen, made up of six from each province.
The Council was to meet annually. The Council of the Union still meets annually, but the day to day affairs are managed by a Committee comprising a President, two Vice-Presidents, the immediate Past President, the Honorary Treasurer and nineteen members. In 1885, twenty-six Clubs were affiliated to the Union of which ten were in Ulster, nine in Leinster, seven in Munster. The Connacht Branch was formed in 1886. There are presently 60,000 (approx.) players in total in Ireland. 56 clubs are affiliated to the Ulster Branch; 71 to the Leinster Branch: 59 to the Munster Branch and 19 to the Connacht Branch. In addition there are 246 Schools playing rugby, Ulster (107), Leinster (75), Munster (41) and Connacht (23).
There is a National League of 50 Senior Clubs.
The Union owns grounds at Lansdowne Road at which International Rugby and Soccer matches are played. The ground is also home to Wanderers and Lansdowne Rugby clubs. Developments in recent years have added greatly to the seating capacity and the ground now holds approx 50,000. The Union also owns Ravenhill Park in Belfast, Thomond Park in Limerick and a number of grounds in provincial areas that have been rented to Clubs.
There is a Branch of the Union in each Province which s managed by a Committee representative of the Clubs in that province. The function of a branch is to regulate the affairs of its Clubs and Schools and to organise Interprovincial matches, Club competitions and Club matches. The Interprovicial series that is played before Christmas each season provides a useful series of trial matches for the Irish Selectors.