Kerins, Charles (1918–44), IRA chief of staff, was born 23 January 1918 at 5 Caherina, Tralee, Co. Kerry, son of Thomas Kerins, slater, and Johanna Kerins (née Griffin). Educated locally, he worked as an office clerk after leaving school and joined the IRA in the 1930s. At the outbreak of World War II he held a senior position in the organisation, and in July 1942 was appointed its deputy chief of staff. On 9 September 1942 Detective-sergeant Denis O'Brien was murdered in the driveway of his home in Ballyboden, Rathfarnham, Co. Dublin. O'Brien had fought in the 1916 rising, in the war of independence, and with the anti-treaty forces in the civil war. Joining the Garda Síochána in 1933, he was one of the group known as the ‘Broy Harriers’ and had arrested several IRA men in the late 1930s and early 1940s. Special branch detectives were convinced that Kerins had ordered the assassination and had probably taken part in it himself. Kerins became chief of staff in late 1942 after the arrest of Hugh McAteer (qv), and following the escape and rearrest of McAteer, he was confirmed in this position in late 1943. Public support for the IRA waned after the O'Brien murder and due to the activities of special branch detectives, the numbers of active IRA men declined rapidly. By the middle of 1944 Kerins was operating almost alone in Dublin. A reward of £5,000 was offered for information leading to the arrest of O'Brien's killer and on the night of 16/17 June 1944 Kerins was arrested at 50 Upper Rathmines Rd. Documents found in his lodgings led to further raids, and large quantities of weapons and ammunition were discovered in a house in Killester and in a chemist's shop in Camden St. Some of the ammunition recovered was Irish army ordnance, implicating Kerins in the Magazine Fort raid of December 1939.
Charged with the murder of O'Brien, he was committed for trial on 2 September 1944 before the special criminal court. Throughout his trial he refused to recognise the validity of the court and would not permit a defence counsel or call witnesses. The prosecution's case was based on fingerprint evidence, the contents of the documents found in his possession, and his association with McAteer, who had been tried on the same charge but found not guilty. Kerins was found guilty and sentenced to death on 9 October 1944. A request to be granted leave to appeal, sought by Seán MacBride (qv) SC, was rejected by the court of appeal on 15 November, and the date of execution was fixed for 1 December. A Kerins Reprieve Committee was immediately organised under the auspices of the Kerry county council and was supported by members and TDs of the Labour Party, the National Labour Party, Clann na Talmhan, and some independents. A series of petitions and public meetings were held to call on the government to commute Kerins's death sentence, while telegrams were sent to the taoiseach, Éamon de Valera (qv); the president, Douglas Hyde (qv); and the minister for justice, Gerald Boland (qv). On 27 November the Labour lord major of Dublin, Martin O'Sullivan (qv), organised a meeting at the Mansion House and a crowd of several thousand gathered. Further protests outside Mountjoy prison and in O'Connell St. were broken up by police. A series of angry exchanges occurred in the dáil and on 30 November the Labour TD James Larkin (qv), jr, accused the government of gagging the press and also intercepting telegrams sent by the Kerins Reprieve Committee. He continued in his protests despite being ruled out of order and was suspended, as were deputies Dan Spring (qv) and Pat Finucane.
All these protests were in vain, and Kerins was hanged in Mountjoy prison 1 December 1944. His remains were buried in the prison grounds but were reinterred in Tralee in 1948. Questions regarding the government's refusal to consider commuting his sentence, and the role of the public censor, were raised in the dáil during the following weeks.