The Irish Exiles were created by Tom Kiernan in 1989 to give Irish-qualified rugby union players in Britain and France the opportunity to play for an Irish representational side and thus potentially strengthen the full Irish team. Many famous Irish players have turned out for the Exiles while they were playing their club rugby abroad.
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. 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), the former Munster prop Tom Hennessy, 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 organization 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 (still with the committee) 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.
The format was thus established in that we would produce Exiles representative XVs 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 going down the same road as us). The first senior XV Coach was British & Irish Lion Dr. Ken Kennedy.
The Exiles were invited to participate in the IRFU Inter-Provincial Championships for the 1992/93 season. Entry into the Inter-Provincial Championship brought its own problems – and, fortunately, solutions. The need to have the players (from all over the country plus France) together for training was paramount. Financing was found and the Exiles went into that first championship very well prepared.
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, e.g. Christian Saverimutto, Justin Fitzpatrick, and the current tally shows that nineteen Exiles players have played senior International Rugby since our formation, including all the aforementioned. This number 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.
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.
The Professional Era
The onset of professional rugby changed our perspectives. 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 five of the original sub-committee are still actively involved, with John O’Driscoll now President and Feidlim MacLoughlin now the Exile's representative on the IRFU Committee. The ‘next generation’ of committee members is also emerging, with the above-mentioned Simon Mason having been elected on to the Branch Committee on his return to England in 2005.
Exiles who represented the Irish national team
- Justin Bishop (London Irish)
- Kieran Campbell (London Irish, Connacht)
- David Curtis (London Irish)
- Guy Easterby (Rotherham, London Scottish, Ebbw Vale, Llanelli, Leinster)
- Simon Easterby (Llanelli)
- David Erskine (Sale)
- 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)
- Simon Mason (Orrell, Richmond, Ulster)
- 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)
- Dan Tuohy (Gloucester, Exeter, Ulster)
Other notable players
- Keith Barrett (London Irish)
- Clem Boyd (Bedford, Bath, Ulster & Ireland U-21s)
- Richard Briggs (Ireland Sevens)
- Mark Bruce (Ireland Sevens)
- Declan Danaher (London Irish & England A)
- Adrian Flavin (London Irish & Ireland A)
- Shane Geraghty (London Irish & England)
- Rob Hoadley (London Irish, Wasps)
- Matt Keenan (London Irish & Western Samoa)
- Andy Kyriacou (Sale, Leeds, Saracens & Ireland A)
- Ed O'Donoghue (Northampton, Worcester, Ulster, Leinster & Ireland A)
- Ciaran Ruddock (Ireland U-20s)
- Jon Skurr (Ireland Sevens)
- Barry Walsh (London Irish & Ireland A)
- Hunter, John S. (July 2007). "A Short History of the Exiles". irishrugby.ie. Retrieved 2009-11-25.