London Irish has learned with regret of the death of Doctor Ken Kennedy who made a great contribution to the Club both as a player and coach during the late 1960s and 1970s.

Kennedy was born in 1941 in Rochester, Kent – his father was a doctor with the Royal Navy and was stationed there during World War II. The family returned to Ireland and Ken grew up in Hollywood, County Down, from where he attended Cabin Hill, the preparatory school for Belfast’s Campbell College, where he was introduced to rugby at the age of 12. An aptitude for the game saw him play initially at centre and full back before settling at hooker.

After school Ken played for Queen’s University while studying medicine at the college, subsequently he joined CIYMS, the Belfast club. He was awarded 45 caps for Ireland, the first against France in 1965, the last against Wales in 1975. He was the most capped hooker in world rugby at the time and recognised as an innovator in his position, laying the foundations for future generations of modern hookers who are mobile, assured ball-handlers with positional awareness. 

Such was his exceptional talent he was selected for the British and Irish Lions tour to Australia and New Zealand in 1966. He was disappointed to miss out through injury on the Lions tour to South Africa in 1968. He returned for the 1974 tour to South Africa.

Ken’s decision to undertake post-graduate studies in geriatric medicine at Guy’s Hospital was the catalyst for his move to London Irish in 1968. At Sunbury he became part of a powerful forward pack that included Ollie Waldron, Al Moroney, Kevin Lavelle, Billy Doyle and Mick Molloy which changed the club’s fortunes going into the early seventies.

Kennedy brought a professional attitude to training both as a player and as a coach from 1972 telling players that “you have to come to training if you want to play”. This uncompromising approach produced results, for example, Irish topped the London division of the RFU Merit Tables in 1976/77.

Kennedy was Club captain from 1976 to 1979 and led the team on pre-season tours to Beziers in the south of France and to South Africa in 1977. His commitment to training and playing was rewarded when Irish reached the final of the John Player Cup in 1980, this proved to be Kennedy’s final appearance as a club player - he was a substitute on that occasion.

In 1974 Dr Kennedy was registrar at St Mary Abbot’s Hospital, part of Chelsea and Kensington Hospitals Trust. He later worked at the Royal Star and Garter Nursing Home in Richmond before opening a private practice as a sports injury specialist in London’s Harley Street until he retired.

London Irish extends its sincere sympathy to Dr Kennedy’s wife, Farida and sons, Patrick and Alexander, his family and friends.

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