Charlie Kerins (23 January 1918 – 1 December 1944) was a prominent Irish Republican, who following his killing of policeman Dennis O'Brien, was named the Chief of Staff of the IRA. After spending two years on the run he was captured by the Gardaí in 1944; following his trial and subsequent conviction, Kerins was hanged in Mountjoy Prison.
Kerins was born in Caherina, Tralee, County Kerry, Ireland and attended Balloonagh Mercy Convent School and then the CBS, Edward Street. At the age of 13, he won a Kerry County Council scholarship and completed his secondary education at the Green Christian Brothers and the Jeffers Institute. In 1920, Kerins passed the Intermediate Certificate with honours and the matriculation examination to the NUI. He later did a commercial course and took up employment in a radio business in Tralee.
In 1940, Kerins was sworn into the IRA, and was appointed to the GHQ staff in May 1942. At the time, the Irish Free State was determined to protect its neutrality in World War II. Therefore, the IRA's attacks against British targets in Northern Ireland and its ties to the intelligence services of Nazi Germany were regarded as severe threats to Ireland's national security.
According to historian Tim Pat Coogan,
"An iron gloved approach to the I.R.A. was the order of the day with vigorous raids and interrogations. As a result, relations between individual I.R.A. men and the [Irish] Special Branch became understandably strained, and the I.R.A., in its shattered and disorganized condition, came to regard the Special Branch as a greater enemy than the British Crown."
Killing of Detective Sergeant O'Brien
On the morning of 9 September 1942, Detective Sergeant Dennis O'Brien was leaving his home in Ballyboden, Dublin. He was between his front gate and his car when he was cut down with Thompson submachine guns. D.S. O'Brien, an Anti-Treaty veteran of the Irish Civil War, had enlisted in the Garda Síochána in 1933. He was one of the most prominent members of the Special Branch Division, which had its headquarters at Dublin Castle. According to historian Tim Pat Coogan,
"The shooting greatly increased public feeling against the I.R.A., particularly as the murder was carried out in full view of his wife. As she held her dying husband, she watched his assailants cycling past."
Following the arrest of Hugh McAteer in October 1942, Kerins was named Chief of Staff for the IRA. Despite a massive manhunt by Gardaí, Kerins remained at large for two years. Travel author Dervla Murphy recounts in her book on Northern Ireland, A Place Apart that Kerins stayed at her family's County Waterford home for two weeks while he was on the run, having given his name as Pat Carney. He had been sent to the Murphy's by Dervla's aunt, Dr. Kathleen Farrell, who was a staunch IRA supporter, and Dervla (aged 12 at the time) and Kerins struck up a friendship. Several months after Kerins left the Murphy's, he was captured.
Kerins had previously left papers and guns hidden at Kathleen Farrell's house in the Dublin suburb of Rathmines. He telephoned the house, as he intended to retrieve them. However, the telephone had been tapped. On 15 June 1944, Kerins was arrested in an early morning raid by the Gardaí. He was sleeping when they entered his bedroom and did not have an opportunity to reach the Thompson submachine gun which was under his bed.
At a trial before the Special Criminal Court in Collins Barracks, Dublin, Kerins was formally charged on 2 October 1944 for the "shooting at Rathfarnham of Detective Dinny O’Brien". According to Coogan,
"At the end of his trial, the president of the Military Court delayed sentence until later in the day to allow Kerins, if he wished, to make an application whereby he might have avoided the capital sentence. When the court resumed, Kerins said: "You could have adjourned it for six years as far as I am concerned, as my attitude towards this Court will always be the same." He thus deprived himself of the right to give evidence, to face cross examination, or to call witnesses.
Despite legal moves initiated by Seán MacBride, public protests, and parliamentary intervention by TDs from Clann na Talmhan, Labour, and Independent Oliver J. Flanagan in Leinster House, the Fianna Fáil government of Éamon de Valera refused to issue a reprieve. On 1 December 1944 in Mountjoy Prison, Kerins was hanged by British chief executioner Albert Pierrepoint, who was employed for the occasion.
Kerins was then buried in the prison yard. In September 1948, his remains were exhumed and released to his family. He is buried in the Republican Plot at Rath Cemetery, Tralee, Co Kerry.
- The IRA: A History, page 144.
- Tim Pat Coogan, "The IRA: A History," pages 143-144.
- Ibid, page 144.
- Murphy, Devla (1978). A Place Apart. UK: Penguin Books, Ltd. pp.27–34
- Murphy, p.27
- Murphy, pp.30–31
- Tim Pat Coogan, "The IRA: A History," page 144.
- Dáil Éireann - Volume 95 - 30 November 1944 - Notice to Raise Matter Under Standing Order 29. at historical-debates.oireachtas.ie
- Dáil Éireann - Volume 95 - 30 November 1944 - Suspension of Deputies. at historical-debates.oireachtas.ie
- Dáil Éireann - Volume 95 - 1 December 1944 - Committee on Finance. - Suspension of a Deputy. at historical-debates.oireachtas.ie
- You shall hang by the neck . . ., Damien Corless, Irish Independent, 21 November 2009, retrieved 15 December 2009
- Charlie Kerins. The 50th anniversary commemoration of the execution of Charlie Kerins, Charlie Kerins Memorial Committee (Tralee), 1994.
- Tim Pat Coogan, The IRA: A History, Roberts Rhinehart Publishers, 1994.