As well as Bairstow, there are also recalls for bowlers Mark Wood and Chris Woakes, while James Anderson is included despite a minor groin strain and will be assessed ahead of the game, which starts on June 1 and is England’s only Test before the Ashes.
The announcement of a 15-man squad brings cruel news for Foakes, England’s incumbent wicketkeeper and widely considered one of the best glovemen in the world.
The Surrey man was always expected to be under pressure for his place in the XI upon Bairstow’s return, which has put a squeeze on middle-order places following Harry Brook’s winter breakthrough. Bairstow was England’s player of last summer and a key figure in launching the revolution under Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum, but then missed the tours to Pakistan and New Zealand after suffering a horrific golf course leg injury and, in his absence, Yorkshire team-mate Brook scored four hundreds in five matches filling the gap at No5 to make himself nigh-on undroppable.
That Foakes has been left out of the squad entirely, though, is a surprise, with England clearly keen to end the debate over where Bairstow might slot back in, the 33-year-old set to bat at seven and keep. Dan Lawrence has instead been retained as the spare batter after occupying the same role on the New Zealand tour.
“It’s something we agonised over for quite some time because you've got two very good cricketers,” said Rob Key, England’s managing director of men’s cricket. “Ben Foakes has done everything that’s been asked of him but then Jonny Bairstow was one of the best bats in the world last year. It was about how do you fit both in if we could and we couldn’t find a way.
“We might not have had this success without Jonny - some of the innings he played last summer were extraordinary.”
Foakes’s axing is also good news for under-pressure opener Zak Crawley, who looked the other candidate to make way, though that would have involved a more drastic shake-up to England’s batting lineup, possibly even with Stokes moving to the top of the order to partner Ben Duckett.
“We didn’t discuss that at all to be honest,” Key added. “We looked at the best way we could do it, we didn't look at square pegs in round holes. Once we saw that, we couldn’t se anything else to be honest.”
Key also issued a positive update on Anderson, suggesting the seamer is firmly on track to feature in the opening Ashes Test at Edgbaston on June 16, even if his involvement against Ireland remains in doubt after he suffered a minor injury while in action for Lancashire last week.
The returns of Wood, who was rested for the New Zealand tour, and Woakes, who is yet to feature under Stokes and McCullum, offer a boost to England’s bowling options following the news that Jofra Archer will miss the entire home summer with another stress fracture.
Intriguingly, given Stokes’ own nagging injury concerns, England have formally named Ollie Pope as vice-captain, the Surrey batter having fulfilled the role during warm-up matches missed by the regular skipper this winter.
However, Key confirmed that Stokes is, at this stage, expected to play against Ireland and insisted he has “no concerns” over his ability to bowl as a fourth seamer, despite Chennai Super Kings currently only considering the all-rounder as a specialist bat.
"Ben’s probably getting more rest than he would have been doing anything else,” Key said of Stokes, who has not played for Chennai since early last month. "Even though he’s out at the IPL, every time I speak to him and we communicate in whatever way, all he’s thinking about really is the Ashes.”