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Exiles History

Exiles History

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.

Rugby World Cup 1991 Australia vs Ireland Rob Saunders ©INPHO/Billy Stickland

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 (who went on to captain Ireland) and Jim Staples (internationals all), and the coach was, by now, the British & Irish Lion Dr. John O’Driscoll.

At the same time, the Under 21/Student XVs were making a significant mark. They went from 1990 to 1992 unbeaten, including the first of the Triangular U21 Tournaments between the Scots, Welsh and ourselves. The 1994/95 season witnessed a significant landmark at this level. Three Exiles represented Ireland at U21 level, one of them – Simon Mason – going on to full international honours. Justin Bishop replicated these feats, starting in the following season.

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.

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.

International Players

Irish internationals continued to emerge from the ranks and in more recently we have seen a number of female players pull on the green jersey. This  also includes two British & Irish Lions – Simon Easterby (2005) (pictured above who captained Ireland and is now the Forwards Coach for the Ireland Team) and Rob Henderson (2001) – and Simon added to his honours by captaining Ireland in the autumn internationals 2005.

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.

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.

Rhys Ruddock

Recent internationals include Rhys Ruddock (pictured above, who 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).  Sam Arnold (2018) was capped against USA as part of the Guinness Series 2018.

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.

Exiles History compiled by John S. Hunter