The Irish Exiles organisation was the brain-child, in 1989, of Tom Kiernan, the former British & Irish Lion and Ireland Captain, and thereafter an influential member of the International Board. Tom Kiernan pulled together a meeting in London of ‘exiled’ rugby personnel in England (predominately), many of whom remain involved in Irish rugby to this day e.g. Noel Traynor (later to become the London Irish President) and others named herein.
The outcome was that the Exiles were established as a formal Sub-Committee of the Irish Rugby Football Union. The primary intention of the organisation was clear: to strengthen Irish Rugby by the recruitment of first- and second- generation Irish-qualified players from the ranks of those playing in England, Scotland, Wales & France. A secondary function was to act as a conduit for those Irish players who had become ‘voluntary Exiles’, i.e. they had moved from Ireland to further their career.
Tom Kiernan remained Chair of the Exiles for a number of years of distinguished service.
The first ‘local’ Chair of the Sub-Committee was Irish international Dr. Barry O’Driscoll and the Secretary/Treasurer was the late David Donovan. An Under 21/Student section and committee was also established, the Chair being Walter Jones and the Secretary John Hunter. Particular commendation must be given to Barry O’Driscoll, whose years of Chairmanship saw the Exiles make major steps forward through his selfless devotion to the cause.
The format was thus established in that Exiles representative XVs would be produced at both senior and under 21/student levels. The first two seasons saw friendly fixtures take place, e.g. versus Ulster at Ravenhill and versus the Welsh Exiles senior XV; both the Welsh and Scottish unions saw merit in implementing similar ‘Exiles’ programmes. The first senior XV Coach was British & Irish Lion Dr. Ken Kennedy.
At the Under 21/Student level, a particularly important step forward was when we played the full Ireland U21 XV at Sunbury – and ran them close. Such progress did not go amiss in Dublin and the upshot was that we were invited to participate in the IRFU Inter-Provincial Championships.
The Exiles took part in the IRFU Inter-Provincial Championships in the 1992/93 season for the first time. Entry into the Championship brought its own problems – and, fortunately, solutions. The need to have the players (from all over the UK and France) together for training was paramount. Financing was found – courtesy of Joe Kennedy of Manchester – and the Exiles went into that first championship very well prepared.
When one looks back at the players we fielded, the strength of the Exiles input by then into Irish Rugby can be gauged. We fielded David Curtis, Simon Geoghegan, Gary Halpin, Matt Keenan, Rob Saunders (pictured above), and Jim Staples (internationals all), and the coach was, by now, the British & Irish Lion Dr. John O’Driscoll.
The Exiles eventually became a fully-fledged Branch of the IRFU and Irish international Feidlim MacLoughlin was their first President; Barry O’Driscoll simultaneously became their first representative on the IRFU Committee.
Irish internationals continued to emerge from the ranks and the current tally shows that 26 Exiles players have played senior International Rugby since our formation. In the 2010s, Dan Tuohy, Declan Fitzpatrick, Kieran Treadwell, and Mike McCarthy became full internationals, Mike being a member of Ireland’s successful Six Nations squad in 2015.
The most recent internationals are Rhys Ruddock (who also captained the Ireland squad on their Summer tour to Japan and the USA in 2017) and Kieran Marmion (a member of the successful Six Nations squad in 2018). This number also includes two British & Irish Lions – Simon Easterby (2005) and Rob Henderson (2001) – and Simon added to his honours by captaining Ireland in the autumn internationals 2005. Sam Arnold (2018) was capped against USA as part of the Guinness Series 2018.
Another milestone was reached in 2005 when Mark Bruce became our first Sevens international for Ireland. He was joined in 2008 by Richard Briggs, when the Ireland Sevens Coach became Exile Jon Skurr (the former Ireland U21 international) and the side was captained by Exile Kieran Campbell (the 15s international scrum-half). Jon & Kieran retained their places for the 2009 World Cup.
A number of female players have also come through the Exiles including Grand Slam winners Sophie Spence and Leigh Dargan, while Megan Williams has been capped for Ireland at both Sevens and fifteen-a-side.
The onset of professional rugby changed our perspectives. The IRFU recognised the need to adjust to the changed environment and appointed our first professional Development Manager (John Hunter) in 2003. The emphasis had moved to player development in the U17-21 age-groups, with fixtures at U18 and U19 levels predominating. The success of this strategy can be seen by the number of age-group internationals we have produced for Ireland in recent years. This reached its zenith in season 2005-06 when they had a record number of fourteen players capped collectively at U21, U19 and U18 levels.
The continuity factor can be demonstrated by the fact that some of the original sub-committee are still actively involved, with Walter Jones now being Hon. Secretary, and John O’Driscoll and Tom Hennessy on the IRFU Committee. The current President is Gerry Holland and due mention must be made of Peter Halsall, who has fulfilled various roles over the years, including Coaching Coordinator and being immediate Past President.
Ireland Men’s Internationals (Exiles)
Will Addison (Sale, Ulster)
Sam Arnold (Garryowen, Munster)
Justin Bishop (London Irish)
Paul Burke (Leicester)
Kieran Campbell (London Irish, Connacht)
David Curtis (London Irish)
Guy Easterby (Rotherham, London Scottish, Ebbw Vale, Llanelli, Leinster)
Simon Easterby (Llanelli)
David Erskine (Sale)
Declan Fitzpatrick (Ulster)
Justin Fitzpatrick (London Irish, Ulster)
Simon Geoghegan (London Irish, Bath)
Gary Halpin (London Irish)
Rob Henderson (London Irish, Wasps, Munster)
Kevin Maggs (Bristol, Bath, Ulster)
Kieran Marmion Connacht
Simon Mason (Orrell, Richmond, Ulster)
Mike McCarthy Wasps, Newcastle Falcons, Connacht & Leinster
Ross Nesdale (Newcastle)
Dion O’Cuinneagain (Sale)
Dylan O’Grady (Sale)
Nick Popplewell (Wasps, Newcastle, Leinster)
Rhys Ruddock (Leinster)
Rob Saunders (London Irish)
Chris Saverimutto (Sale)
Jim Staples (London Irish, Harlequins)
Kieran Treadwell (Ulster)
Dan Tuohy (Gloucester, Exeter, Ulster)
Ireland Women’s Internationals
Kerrie Ann Craddock
Other Representative & Ireland Teams
Callum Black (Ulster & Emerging Ireland)
Mark Blair (Edinburgh Rugby, Ulster Rugby, Narbonne, Border Reivers, Ireland U21s, Ireland A)
Clem Boyd (Bedford, Bath, Ulster & Ireland U21s)
Richard Briggs (Ireland Sevens)
Kieran Brookes Ireland U20s Northampton Saints England
Mark Bruce (Ireland Sevens)
Declan Danaher (London Irish & England A)
Paul Doran-Jones Ireland U21s Leinster Wasps England
Adrian Flavin (London Irish & Ireland A)
Shane Geraghty (London Irish & England)
Božidar Lazovic (CA Brive, RC Massy & Ireland U20s)
Matt Keenan (London Irish & Western Samoa)
Andy Kyriacou (Sale, Leeds, Saracens & Ireland A)
Liam Mooney (London Irish, Ireland A, Barbarians)
George McGuigan Ireland U20s Leicester & England Saxons
Ed O’Donoghue (Northampton, Worcester, Ulster, Queensland Reds, Leinster & Ireland A)
Ciaran Ruddock (Ireland U20s Captain)
Jon Skurr (Ireland Sevens)
Barry Walsh (London Irish & Ireland A)