McCarthy, Charles (1924–86), trade unionist and academic, was born 25 January 1924 at 12 Annmount, Friars Walk, Cork city, second child of John George McCarthy of Cork, plumber, and Agnes Abina McCarthy (née O'Donoghue). He was educated at Presentation College, Cork, UCD, and King's Inns, where he enrolled in 1948; he was called to the bar in 1956. After graduating from UCD he briefly worked as a clerk on a building site and as an insurance agent before becoming an actor with the Radio Éireann Repertory in 1947. During his time with Radio Éireann he also wrote four plays, one of which, entitled ‘Jericho's trumpets’, was based on his experiences in the insurance industry. He was later employed as a speech and drama teacher by Cork vocational educational committee. At the same time he developed an interest in industrial relations as treasurer of the actors’ trade union Equity and then as secretary of the Civil Service Alliance. In 1956 he became full-time general secretary of the Vocational Teacher's Association, which later became the Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI). Through this post he eventually became president (1963–4) of the ICTU and sat on the executive committee for ten years. As secretary to the International Committee of Technical Teachers he organised conferences around the world and developed countless international contacts.
In 1968 he published his first book, The distasteful challenge. A damning indictment of the static nature of Irish society at the time, it stressed the need to face up to change, particularly in the areas of education, the civil service, and local government. This was followed in 1971 by Industrial democracy; the following year (1972) McCarthy took leave of absence from the TUI to become a research fellow at TCD. In 1973 his dedication to the arts was rewarded with a seat (1973–6) on the RTÉ Authority and in the same year he published Decade of upheaval, which documented the experiences of the trade union movement during the turbulent era of the 1960s. In 1977 he became a lecturer in industrial relations at TCD and his 670-page magnum opus, Trade unions in Ireland, 1894–1960, was published to critical acclaim. Two years later (1979) he was appointed to the chair in industrial relations at TCD and became head of the school of business and administrative studies. He was later appointed dean of the faculty of economic and social studies and made a fellow of TCD.
He was a firm believer in resolving industrial relations problems through negotiation. Both unions and management alike respected his views and abilities and he was frequently called on by the private and public sectors, as well as governments, to use his expertise to bring an end to protracted disputes. He sat on numerous public bodies including the National Industrial & Economic Council and the Irish National Productivity Committee. In 1985 his ability to bridge the divide between management and unions was recognised with his election to the council of the Irish Management Institute. Despite his career in industrial relations he maintained his interest in drama and was an original shareholder in the new Abbey Theatre. In 1973 he was appointed to the board of the theatre; he served as chairman 1982–5. He was also a member of the board of governors and guardians of Dr Steevens’ Hospital, Dublin. He died 8 September 1986 in Dublin of atherosclerosis of the coronary arteries.
He married (7 June 1951) Muriel, daughter of Liam Breslin. She became (1989) keeper of Archbishop Marsh's Library, Dublin, received an honorary LLD (NUI), and was also made an honorary lay canon of St Patrick's cathedral, Armagh. They lived at 367 Howth Road, Raheny, Dublin, and had one son and two daughters.