From The Vaults

05 June 2023
The 'Garryowen' - Ireland’s secret weapon

At a time when Irish rugby on the cusp of its 150th anniversary is arguably at its zenith, a passage of play in one of this year's Six Nations matches in Cardiff was irresistibly reminiscent of the days when the 'Garryowen' proliferated in Irish rugby. And it was no coincidence that Ireland were Wales' opponents that day as the 'Garryowen' has always been regarded as an Irish invention.

The 'Garryowen' is best described as a high tactical kick designed to put your opponents' defence, and particularly its full back and wings, under intense pressure while your teammates race up either to catch the ball or immediately envelop the tackler who ideally then spills the ball to your team's advantage. In the hands and feet of an expert kicker such as Jonny Sexton or Dan Biggar in February it can bring huge territorial advantage, but badly executed can leave your side open to devastating counter-attacks.

The strengths of Irish rugby are underpinned by the four great provincial sides who started competitive fixtures in the 1880s, but Irish rugby clubs have played an equally important part in the development of the game at all levels.

Garryowen Football Club in Limerick was founded in 1884 and the men's side currently plays in Division 1A of the Energia All-Ireland League. The club has won the All Ireland League three times and the Munster Senior Cup on 39 occasions. The club has produced over 50 Irish internationals and a small number of these players have played in British & Irish Lions test matches, the most recent being scrum half Conor Murray who played in the three tests on the 2021 tour of South Africa.

Garryowen FC, 1889

The club has also produced five presidents of the Irish Rugby Football Union starting in 1894-95 with the legendary Garryowen and Limerick forward Jack MacAulay. MacAulay won only two caps for Ireland but earned lasting fame for taking leave from his work to get married in order to be able to take his place in the Irish team against England at Lansdowne Road in February 1887.

Ireland recorded its first ever victory over England that day in Dublin and MacAulay was duly picked again to play against Scotland in Belfast a fortnight later. This was a much less happy experience. The Ireland team was thrashed by three tries, one conversion and one goal from a mark to nil and this match marked the end of MacAulay's international career.

Garryowen is one of the many great Irish rugby clubs, north and south, which have provided their provinces and the national side with outstanding players over nearly 140 years. The unique feature of Garryowen FC is that it has a particular facet of the rugby union game named after it.


  • Garryowen FC 1884-1984 - Charles Mulqueen (Garryowen FC 1984)
  • The Home of the Spirit - A Celebration of Limerick Rugby - Michael O'Flaherty (Limerick Leader 1999)
  • Irish Rugby 1874-1999 - Edmund Van Esbeck (Gill and Macmillan, Dublin 1999)
  • Rugby World article (February 3rd 2022) - Adam Hathaway
  • World Rugby Museum international spreadsheets 1871-2020 (compiler: Richard Steele)

About the Author

A professional musician and arts administrator, Richard Steele has been on the committee of the World Rugby Museum at Twickenham since 2005 and is the co-author of the RFU's 150th anniversary book England Rugby 150 Years.