Want to help ?
National Rugby Unions | Laws | Scoring | Player Numbering | Player Positions | * | *
Rugby School | Club History | Bloxham's Letter | Split of Union and League | Thomas Hughs | * | *
The Ball | Apparel | * | * | * | * | *
Olympics | Six Nations | Tri-nations | Rugby World Cup | Women's RWC | * | *
Rugby History Links | General Rugby Links | Club History Links | * | * | * | *
subglobal8 link | subglobal8 link | subglobal8 link | subglobal8 link | subglobal8 link | subglobal8 link | subglobal8 link

Irish Rugby

Carl Mullen signs rugby ball for small boy

History of the IRFU

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. See Charles Burton Barrington

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.

A meeting of DUFC was held in 1874 to arrange a game between Ireland and England, at which the secretary read a letter from the secretary of the English Rugby Union (formed in 1871) suggesting dates for the match in the following February.  The other clubs were notified, and nominated their representatives. This meeting was held in the Grafton Street premises of the sports supplier John Lawrence, editor of the celebrated Handbook of Cricket in Ireland. Dublin University, Wanderers, Lansdowne, Bray, Engineers, Portora Royal School, Dungannon Royal School and Monaghan were represented, many delegates of the other clubs also being Trinity men. Significantly, the most prominent of the Belfast clubs, North of Ireland FC, was not represented at this meeting.

Following the meeting a circular was issued to the clubs and to the press, acknowledging the role that the Rugby Union was playing as the representative organisation in England, and seeking support for the fledgling Irish Football Union. The circular suggested the establishment of interprovincial and North v South fixtures, and a February date for the forthcoming fixture with England. (The initial game at Kennington Oval was won by England, before 3,000 spectators, by two goals and a try to nil.)

Before this game took place, a meeting was held in Belfast in January at which a Northern Football Union was formed. It was agreed to offer “physical assistance” to Ireland in the forthcoming international, and a Belfast versus Dublin challenge was arranged for later in the season.

Note: 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 The crucial meeting was held in No. 9, Trinity College, where after much discussion – in which a prominent part was played by W.C. Neville of DUFC (a pioneer obstetrician who captained Ireland in 1879 and was later President of the Union), J.G. Cronyn of DUFC, and W.J. Goulding, a  Corkman – the three provinces of Ulster, Leinster and Munster agreed to join together to form the IRFU. According to Cronyn’s somewhat laconic description of this historic occasion, ‘Goulding, Neville and myself did most of the talking and eventually we wore out the North! ‘

Note: clubs formed before this date were entitled to retain the designation ‘football club’, whereas those formed after the formation of the IRFU are called ‘rugby football’

The following terms were agreed:

(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.

The first All Blacks team visited Dublinin November 1905 and the IRFU made the match the first all-ticket rugby international in history due to the high level of interest. Ireland played only seven forwards, copying the then New Zealand method of playing a "rover". The game ended New Zealand 15 Ireland 0.

On 20 March 1909, Ireland played France for the first time, beating them 19-8. This was Ireland's biggest victory in international rugby at that time, their highest points tally and a record five tries.

30 November 1912 was the first time the Springboks met Ireland at Lansdowne Road, the 1906 tour game having been played at Ravenhill. Ireland with seven new caps were overwhelmed by a record margin of 38-0, still a record loss to South Africa who scored 10 tries.

In 1926, Ireland went into their final Five Nations match unbeaten and with the Grand Slam at stake lost to Wales in Swansea. Ireland again came close to a grand slam in 1927 when their sole loss was an 8-6 defeat by England.

In 1948 when, inspired by tactician and fly-half Jack Kyle, they beat France in Paris, England at Twickenham and a 6-0 win over Scotland at Lansdowne Road. They clinched their first Grand Slam in the Five Nations with a win against Wales at Ravenhill, Belfast. Ireland were champions and Triple Crown winners again in 1949.

The Irish used only 19 players in clinching the 1949 Championship and Triple Crown, only the fourth time that the Triple Crown had been retained by a home nation.


In 1951, Ireland were once more crowned outright Five Nations champions and were unbeaten going into their final game. They failed to win the Grand Slam or Triple Crown following a 3-3 draw with Wales in Cardiff.

The year of 1952 saw only Ireland's second overseas tour, the first for over half a century - as they headed to Argentina for a nine-match trip which included two Test matches. Ireland won six, drew two and lost one of the matches, their Test record being won one, drawn one.

On 27 February 1954, Ireland were due to play Scotland at Ravenhill in Belfast. The new Irish captain, Jim McCarthy, told IRFU president Sarsfield Hogan that the eleven Republic-based players would not stand for "God Save the Queen" alongside the Scottish team. It was agreed that an abbreviated anthem, known in Ulster as "the Salute", would be played that afternoon and that the Irish team would never play again at Ravenhill. Ireland went on to beat Scotland 6-0 but did not play in Northern Ireland again until 2007.

On 18 January 1958 Ireland beat Australia 9-6 in Dublin, this was the first time a major touring team had been defeated.


Ireland managed just three victories in the Five Nations Championship; against England in 1961, Wales in 1963 and England again in 1964. There were also draws against England and Wales at Lansdowne Road to the end of 1964.

1965 saw an improvement as Ireland drew with France before beating England and Scotland, only for their Triple Crown hopes disappear against Wales in Cardiff. On 10 April 1965 Ireland recorded their first ever win over South Africa. The match, held at Lansdowne Road, was heading for a draw with the score at six points each, when Tom Kiernan won the match for Ireland with a late penalty. Ireland beat Australia again in Dublin in 1967 and became the first of the home nations to win in the Southern Hemisphere when they beat Australia in Sydney in May 1967.

On 26 October 1968, Ireland made it four successive wins over the Wallabies with a 16-3 win at Lansdowne Road.

In 1969, Ireland claimed a 17-9 victory over France at Lansdowne Road in the Five Nations, a first victory over Les Bleus in 11 years. They were again unbeaten going into their final game in Cardiff but Wales denied them a Grand Slam for the third time. In the autumn of 1969, the Irish Rugby Football Union decided to appoint a coach for the national team for the first time, the role went to Ronnie Dawson.


The 1972 Five Nations Championship was not completed when Scotland and then Wales refused to play in Ireland following threatening letters to players, purportedly from the IRA. The championship remained unresolved with Wales and Ireland unbeaten. In 1973, despite similar threats, England fulfilled their fixture and were given a standing ovation that lasted for five minutes. Ireland won 18-9 and at the after-match dinner the England captain, John Pullin famously remarked "We might not be very good but at least we turn up". Ireland came close to a first win over the All Blacks on 20 January 1973 but with the score at 10-10 an Irish conversion attempt was pushed wide by a gust of wind. In the final match of the 1974 season, Ireland won their first Five Nations Championship since 1951.

Roly Meates was national coach from 1975 to 1977 and Noel Murphy from 1977 to 1980. Willie John McBride was coach until 1984.


In 1982 Ireland came close to winning a Grand Slam but were beaten by France in Paris. They beat Scotland, Wales and England to win the championship and their first Triple Crown in 33 years.

Three years after their last Triple Crown win, Ireland, coached by Mick Doyle, came out in 1985 and won the Championship and the Triple Crown again. They beat Scotland and Wales. The French again prevented Ireland from claiming a Grand Slam after a 15-15 draw in Dublin. Ireland played England at Lansdowne Road and won the championship with a last minute drop goal from Michael Kiernan. The match ended 13-10 to Ireland. It was Ireland's last silverware until 2004.

Ireland were whitewashed in the 1986 Five Nations Championship but on 1 November 1986, Ireland made history when they scored 10 tries against Romania in a 60-0 win. It was the biggest win in international rugby at the time, equaling the French record set in 1967.

At the inaugural World Cup in 1987, two straightforward victories over Tonga and Canada were enough to see Ireland through to the quarter-finals, when they travelled to Sydney to face the joint hosts Australia, only to be beaten 33-15.

In the Five Nations, England and France were dominant throughout the decade, resulting in the others scrapping around for the odd Championship title. Ireland didn't manage to win the trophy once in the whole decade and worse never finished outside the bottom two.


The second Rugby World Cup took place in Britain, Ireland and France in 1991. Ireland found themselves in the same pool as Scotland. After two easy wins over Japan and Zimbabwe, Scotland sneaked a 24-15 win at Murrayfield. Ireland played the Wallabies at Lansdowne Road in the quarter final and appeared to be on the verge of a shock victory over Australia, when Michael Lynagh scored the winning try to clinch a 19-18 win for Australia.

At the 1994 Five Nations Championship, Ireland beat Will Carling's all-conquering England at Twickenham.

At the 1995 World Cup in South Africa, Ireland were in a group containing the All Blacks and Wales. In a close game in Johannesburg, Ireland sneaked through 24-23 against Wales to make their third consecutive quarter-final appearance. Unfortunately France proved too strong, with Ireland going down 36-12.

The start of the professional era was disappointing for Ireland who finished bottom in the Five Nations Championship three years in succession (1996, 1997 and 1998). Englishman Brian Ashton was head coach between 1997 and 1998, but after a series of disappointing results resigned barely 12 months into the six year contract he had been awarded by the IRFU. Warren Gatland took over as coach in 1998, but was unable to produce immediate success and 1999 was the first time Ireland failed to reach the last eight at a Rugby World Cup. From this nadir, however, Irish rugby improved rapidly. With the advent of professionalism, the Irish Rugby Football Union decided to convert the four representative provincial sides into de facto club sides, with the financial capacity to retain top talent in Ireland, yet retaining strong links with amateur clubs and schools to enable young talent to be brought up through the ranks. The close geographical proximity of most of the Irish international squad helped cement relationships between the players in a way that would not have been possible had they left for English, French and Southern Hemisphere clubs. The later formation of the Celtic League (Now called the Magners League for sponsorship reasons) cemented this strategy by ensuring that provincial sides had a regular schedule of competitive rugby.

The 1999 World Cup was staged in Wales though Ireland played all their pool games in Dublin. A defeat to the Wallabies meant Ireland having to go down the play-off route. Playing away from Lansdowne Road for the first time in the competition, Ireland were beaten 28-24 by Argentina in Lens.


The advent of the new Six Nations format coincided with this Irish resurgence, and they became the strongest of the Celtic nations. In 2001 the rugby union season was disrupted due to the foot and mouth crisis in Britain. Ireland were good enough to beat France but were unable to play Scotland until the Autumn and were caught cold losing 32-10. They were still good enough to beat England, spoiling their hopes of a Grand Slam, and finishing second on points difference. Eddie O'Sullivan took over as coach from Warren Gatland in November 2001 following the New Zealander's sacking.

The 2003 Six Nations Championship came down to the wire with Ireland and England playing a Grand Slam decider at Lansdowne Road. England, however, won 42-6. That defeat ended an unbeaten run that stretched back 10 Tests to their Rugby World Cup qualifiers warm up against Romania in September 2002 and included defeats of Pool A rivals Australia and Argentina at Lansdowne Road. In 2004 they lost their opening game against France but became the first team to beat England following their World Cup win. They finished second in the table behind France and won the Triple Crown.

In 2005 Ireland were considered slight favourites entering the Six Nations Championships, and won their first three matches, including a 19-13 defeat of England in Dublin. However, Ireland's dreams of their first Grand Slam since 1948 were ended with a 26-19 home loss to France. In the final round, Wales defeated Ireland 32-20 at Millennium Stadium in Cardiff to win the Grand Slam. Ireland finished in 3rd place. In 2006, Ireland showed the capacity to play top class rugby, but only inconsistently - a rout of Wales was balanced by uncertain victories against England , Scotland and Italy and a comprehensive defeat by winners France. Ireland finished second and won the Triple Crown for the second time in three years, incidentally the first ever time a trophy had been awarded for the feat.

They then embarked on their annual tour to the southern hemisphere. There they ran New Zealand close twice before a tired Ireland were thumped by the Wallabies in Perth. They returned to their clubs before they gathered once more for the last Autumn Internationals at Lansdowne Road. The South Africans came with an experimental side with an eye on the 2007 World Cup, which was soundly beaten by the Irish 32-15. Next to Lansdowne were Australia with a much more formidable squad. The weather ruined what many had tipped to be the battle of the backlines, although Geordan Murphy finished off a world class move in their 21-6 victory. That win propelled Ireland to a best ever height of 3rd in the IRB World Rankings. In the final international match at Lansdowne, Ireland thumped the Pacific Islanders 61-17, with Paddy Wallace putting in a man of the match performance with 26 points. The win completed a hat-trick of victories.

In March 2007 the IRFU created the "High Performance Select Group" of up and coming Irish players who have been earmarked for future Irish teams. This group includes Luke Fitzgerald, Barry Murphy, Tommy Bowe, Rob Kearney, Daniel Riordan, Stephen Ferris, Roger Wilson,and Jamie Heaslip, some of whom have already been capped. The aim of the group is to provide these young players with the support and infrastructure available to the senior squad and to ease their future transition into the Irish team.

With the announcement of the rebuilding of Lansdowne Road, a new venue was required to stage Ireland's home internationals. While Ireland are planning to play one of their warm up matches for the 2007 World Cup at Ravenhill, the only stadium in Ireland capable of holding major rugby internationals was Croke Park, home of the Gaelic Athletic Association. To accommodate this, the GAA temporarily relaxed its rule governing the playing of so-called "foreign games" on its property. Initially, two Six Nations games were played at Croke Park during 2007; the first was a 17-20 loss to France, and the second a 43 to 13 win over England.

Ireland began their 2008 Six Nations Campaign with a narrow win over Italy. France then edged Ireland out in Paris, before they went on to beat Scotland in Dublin, Ireland then lost to eventual Grand Slammers Wales and England.

In March 2008, Eddie O'Sullivan resigned as Ireland coach after the disappointing Six Nations and World Cup campaigns.

Declan Kidney was subsequently appointed as manager but did not take up this role formally until after Ireland's tour of New Zealand and Australia (losing to the All Blacks 21-11 and Australia 18-12). His first official game in charge was against Canada at Thomond Park which Ireland won 55-0.

Ireland won the 2009 Six Nations Championship and Grand Slam by beating Wales at the Millennium Stadium 15-17 on 21 March 2009, the first time they had won the championship since 1985, and the first time they had won the Grand Slam since 1948. Ireland also became only the second team (after Wales in 2005) to win a Six Nations Grand Slam after playing more away games than at home. The Ireland team arrived home on 22 March 2009 at Dublin airport to a heroes welcome. Afterwards around 18,000 fans turned out at the Mansion House to greet the team after clinching the first Grand Slam for Ireland in 61 years. After Autumn Series victories against Fiji and South Africa and a draw against Australia, Ireland ended 2009 unbeaten.


Ireland began the 2010 Six Nations with a home game against Italy, winning 29-11. Their second game was away to France in a match which many saw as the decider for this years competition. France ran out comfortable winners, the final score being 33-10. After a one week break Ireland were away to England. In a close game Ireland eventually emerged victorious, a Tommy Bowe try and Ronan O'Gara conversion winning the match 16-20. After another one week break Ireland were back at Croke Park against Wales. Ireland were winners, beating Wales 27-12 after a Man-of-the-Match performance from Tomas O'Leary. Ireland's final game of the Six Nations, and the last ever game at Croke Park, was against Scotland. Ireland went into the match with a 5th Triple Crown in sight but were undone by a 79th minute Dan Parks penalty, which gave the Scots a 20-23 victory.

Ireland began their 2010 Summer Tests with a non-cap friendly against the Barbarians, which they lost 23-29 despite a characteristic fight-back in the second half. Their next game saw them take on New Zealand. An injury hit side fielded a number of inexperienced or uncapped players, and Ireland were duly thrashed 66-28, their heaviest ever defeat, though a spirited come back in the second half gained them a lot of deserved credit, with tries from O'Driscoll, Bowe and D'Arcy after Tuohy's first half try. Jamie Heaslip was also sent off in the 15th minute so Ireland were at a numerical disadvantage. Ireland's next game was against New Zealand Maori. The side was captained by Geordan Murphy and fielded many inexperienced players. The game was level at 18-18 at half-time thanks to Jonathon Sexton's boot, but the Maori eventually won 31-28. Ireland's next game, and last of the Summer Tests, was against Australia which they lost 22-15.

Presidents of IRFU

Years of Service President
1874-76 Duke of Abercorn
1876-79 Duke of Marlborough
1879-80 W. C. Neville, M.D.
1880-81 Rt. Hon. Sir Wm. Goulding, P.C.,M.A.,J.P.,D.L.
1881-82 R. B. Walkington
1882-83 G. Scriven, M.D.
1883-84 A. R. McMullen
1884-85 R. E. McLean
1885-86 G. Scriven, M.D.
1886-87 W. L. Stokes
1887-88 J. Chambers, K.C.,M.P.
1888-89 R. Biggs, LL.D.
1889-90 Sir F. W. Moore, F.L.S.
1890-91 M. H. Turnbull
1891-92 H. Hook
1892-93 J. R. Blood
1893-94 R. Garratt, M.D.
1894-95 J. Macaulay
1895-96 R. G. Warren
1896-97 J. Dodds
1897-98 J. F. Maguire
1898-99 J. B. Moore
1899-00 S. Lee
1900-01 J. O'Sullivan
1901-02 T. Thornhill
1902-03 J. Johnston
1903-04 V. J. Murray
1904-05 A. D. Clinch, M.D.
1905-06 F. M. Hamilton
1906-07 J. Flynn
1907-08 G. H. B. Kennedy
1908-09 A. Barr
1909-10 Prof. C. W. L. Alexander
1910-11 F. C. Purser, M.D.
1911-12 J. H. O'Conor
1912-13 Major R. Stevenson
1913-16 F. H. Browning, B.L.
1919-20 A. Tedford
1920-21 W. P. Hinton
1921-22 R. M. Magrath
1922-23 G. G. McCrea
1923-24 H. Thrift, S.F.,T.C.D.
1924-25 J. J. Coffey
1925-26 F. J. Strain
1926-27 G. T. Hamlet
1927-28 Judge Sealy, K.C.
1928-29 H. J. Millar
1929-30 T. J. Greeves
1930-31 J. G. Musgrave
1931-32 W. A. Clarke
1932-33 C. S. Neill
1933-34 S. E. Polden
1934-35 J. Wallace, M.B.
1935-36 Sir S. T. Irwin, C.B.E.,M.Ch.,F.R.C.S.,M.P.
1936-37 The Hon. Mr. Justice C. Davitt
1937-38 H. E. Emerson, M.B.,O.B.E.,M.C.
1938-45 J. J. Warren
1945-46 H. J. Anderson, L.D.S.I.
1946-47 W. A. B. Douglas, J.P.,F.R.G.S.
1947-48 T. M. McGrath, M.B.
1948-49 G. P. S. Hogan, B.L.,P.C.
1949-50 W. G. Fallon, B.L.
1950-51 Air Vice-Marshall Sir W. Tyrrell, K.B.E.,D.S.O.,M.C.,M.B.,LLD.
1951-52 D. F. O'Connell
1952-53 V. E. Kirwan
1953-54 J. B. O'Callaghan
1954-55 C. J. Hanrahan
1955-56 H. M. Read
1956-57 Capt. J. R. Ramsey, P.C.
1957-58 W. E. Crawford, B.L.
1958-59 J. J. Glynn
1959-60 J. R. Wheeler, M.B.,F.R.C.S.
1960-61 N. F. Murphy
1961-62 L. B. McMahon
1962-63 J. A. E. Siggins
1963-64 T. A. O'Reilly
1964-65 C. C. Harte
1965-66 P. F. Murray, F.F.A.
1966-67 D. G. O’Donovan
1967-68 E. O'D. Davy
1968-69 C. P. Crowley
1969-70 J. W. S. Irwin, M.B.,F.R.C.S.
1970-71 E. Patterson
1971-72 D. A. Dineen
1972-73 The Hon. Mr. Justice J. C. Conroy
1973-74 I. F. Mahony
1974-75 H. R. McKibbin, C.B.E.,LL.B.
1975-76 J. J. Keane, L.R.C.P.&S.I.
1976-77 J. A. D. Higgins
1977-78 J. F. Coffey
1978-79 K. J. Quilligan
1979-80 J. Montgomery, M.C.
1980-81 R. Ganly, M.I.A.V.I.
1981-82 J. J. Moore, B.Sc.
1982-83 J. E. Nelson, O.B.E.,F.C.A.
1983-84 G. F. Reidy
1984-85 M. H. Carroll
1985-86 D. McKibbin, B.Sc., C.Eng.,M.I.C.E.
1986-87 Sir Ewart Bell, K.C.B.
1987-88 P. F. Madigan
1988-89 T. J. Kiernan, B.Comm.,F.C.A.
1989-90 A. R. Dawson, F.R.I.A.I.,F.A.S.I.
1990-91 N. J. Henderson, B.Sc.
1991-92 Dr. A. D. Browne, B.D.S.
1992-93 C. A. Quaid, Ph.D.
1993-94 M. Cuddy
1994-95 K. E. Reid, M.A.,H.Dip.Ed.
1995-96 Dr. S. Millar, M.B.E.,D.Sc.
1996-97 R. M. Deacy, F.C.A.
1997-98 N. H. Brophy, B.Comm.,F.C.A.
1998-99 N. A. A. Murphy
1999-00 W. S. H. Lavery, LL.B.
2000-01 E. Coleman
2001-02 R. Loughead
2002-03 D.M. Crowley, B.E.,Eur.Ing., C.Eng., M.I.E.I.xxxx
2003-04 J.K. Quilligan
2004-05 B.T. Keogh
2005-06 D. A. Crawford
2006-07 P.J. Boyle
2007-08 D.V. Healy

Today (2010)

As of 2010 there are 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.



1. IRFU website retrieved Oct 22, 2010

2. retrieved Oct 22, 2010. NB. I don't usually like sourcing information from wikipedia as I have found it to contain many errors in the past. I therefore intend to verify and re-write most of the text on this page in due course.


Carl Mullen signs rugby ball for small boyCredits |Contact Us | ©2007