Doyen of the 'Dirty Seven' rugby elite who also played cricket for Ireland


Jim KiernanJIM KIERNAN, who has died aged 80, played rugby for Munster, served as a selector for both his province and Ireland, was an Irish international cricket player, and a member of an elite rugby outfit known as the “Dirty Seven”.

A leading figure in an interwoven dynasty of strong Cork rugby families, he was a fine fullback and won five interprovincial caps with Munster between 1953 and 1964. His son Michael was an Irish and Lions centre, while his younger brother Tom won 54 caps as fullback for Ireland and also captained the Lions.

The Kiernan lineage continues at UCC where his grandson, James, plays for the college. The close family connection with Munster is retained by his daughter, Jennifer, who works with Munster Rugby.

A man who knew the game inside out, after retiring as a player he retained a keen personal interest in the fortunes of both provincial and international teams. A Munster selector between 1971 and 1973 and again between 1981 and 1987, he was also an Irish selector for three seasons between 1984 and 1987.

Kiernan first came to notice as a schoolboy when he won both Munster Schools junior and senior cup medals in 1946 and 1948 with Presentation Brothers College. At UCC he won two Munster Senior Cup medals in 1951 and 1955 and another with Cork Constitution in 1957, when he captained the team.

During his first season as an international selector, the Irish team came within an ace of winning the Grand Slam, a dream denied only by a draw with France. The highlight of that season was undoubtedly the drop goal by his son Michael to win the Triple Crown.

In a dramatic break with Cork rugby tradition, Jim moved across the city from Constitution to join Dolphin, where he captained the senior team in 1961-1962 when Dolphin won the Cork Charity Cup. He was president of the club in the 1978-1979 season and subsequently became an honorary life member of Dolphin which was also Michael’s club.

The “Dirty Seven”, an elite team referred to in the archives of UCC, appeared in September 1952 when the college was invited by Bective Rangers to participate in the first seven-a-side tournament – a new form of rugby at the time – to be held in Ireland. With UCC still on holidays, a makeshift team of available players was hastily assembled, among them Kiernan and Johnny O’Meara, the future Ireland scrumhalf, who died last year.

The final at Donnybrook was a mud bath between UCC and UCD. To cope with the heavy, greasy ball, the Cork players resorted to the foot-rush, a technique no longer in vogue today, thus beating their Dublin rivals. They were nicknamed the “Dirty Seven”, not for any negative approach to the game but on account of their physical appearance after playing all their matches without a change of gear in the same wet, dirty togs.

Growing up near the grounds of the Cork County Cricket Club on the Mardyke, Kiernan took up cricket as a boy and proved to be a natural exponent of the game with a stylish follow-through as a batsman. He played for both the Bohemian and Cork County clubs and won a cap for Ireland. In a memorable match for the County against a visiting Carlisle team in 1959, he formed an effective partnership with fellow Cork international Pat Dineen to push the home score well past 200, quite a feat at the time.

An engineer by profession, he worked with the South of Ireland Asphalt Company and Bord Gáis. A sportsman to his fingertips, he was also a fine shot and a keen golfer.

He is survived by his wife Angela, children Eileen, Catherine, Michael, Peter, Valerie and Jennifer, his sisters Anne and Eileen and his brother Tom.

Jim Kiernan: born November 10th, 1931; died January 6th