National Army Soldier (Sergeant) Charles J. Kearns


National Army Soldier (Sergeant) Charles J. Kearns of 23 Crocus Street, Belfast, Co. Antrim (Imperial Hotel, Grand Parade, Cork city)

Date of incident: 9 Oct. 1922

Sources: Evening Herald, 9 Oct. 1922; CE, 10 Oct. 1922; II, 10 Oct. 1922; FJ, 11 Oct. 1922; SS, 14 Oct. 1922; Belfast Newsletter, 14 Oct. 1922; CE, 16 Oct. 1922; MSPC/2D298 (Military Archives); O’Farrell, Who’s Who, 206; National Army Census, 12-13 Nov. 1922 (BMH, Military Archives); Boyne (2015), 191-92; Keane (2017), 313, 416; http://www.irishmedals.ie/National-Army-Killed.php (accessed 13 July 2017). 


Note: Sargeant Charles Kearns died of gunshot wounds inflicted on 8 October 1922 at the Imperial Hotel in Cork. See MSPC/2D298 (Military Archives). O’Farrell states that there are ‘discrepancies in [the] sources as to cause’. See O’Farrell, Who’s Who, 206. According to the Cork Examiner, Private Charles Kearns of the First Company of Dublin Guards, ‘recently killed in County Cork’, was interred in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin on 13 October 1922. He was buried with full military honours. See CE, 16 Oct. 1922. The Belfast Newsletter of 14 October 1922 took note of the death and burial of this former Belfast resident, whose address was given as 28 Crocus Street. The Newsletter claimed that Kearns had been ‘killed in an ambush in Cork a few days ago’. See Belfast Newsletter, 14 Oct. 1922.

This newspaper account and certain other sources appear to be at variance with the facts. The violent death of Sergeant Charles J. Kearns took place in connection with the wedding of Major General Emmet Dalton in Cork city on 9 October 1922. For security reasons the wedding occurred in the closely guarded Imperial Hotel and not in a church. This special occasion took a decided turn for the worse when two National Army Soldiers—Sergeant Kearns and Andrew Rooney—got into a serious altercation. Although the two soldiers were initially separated, Rooney subsequently shot Kearns in the guardroom of the military barracks. At a court-martial held on 27 October 1922, Rooney was sentenced to death, though this sentence was later commuted to a term of five years in jail. This recent account of the episode appears in Sean Boyne, Emmet Dalton: Somme Soldier, Irish General, Film Pioneer (2015), 191-92. General Dalton married Miss Alice Shannon of St Benedict’s Gardens, North Circular Road, Phibsboro, Dublin, on 9 October 1921 in the Clarence Hall of the Imperial Hotel, ‘where a beautiful altar had been erected. The nuptial Mass was celebrated by the Very Rev. Dr Scannell, Chaplain to the [Free State] Forces in Cork.’ The ‘best man’ at their wedding was Commandant-General Charles Dalton of the Intelligence Department of the National Army and brother of the bridegroom. See Evening Herald, 9 Oct. 1921. See also CE, 10 Oct. 1922; II, 10 Oct. 1922; FJ, 11 Oct. 1922; SS, 14 Oct. 1922. None of the newspaper reports of the wedding mentioned the fatal altercation resulting in the death of Sergeant Kearns. On the contrary, the Irish Independent of 14 October 1922 reported that Private [sic] Charles Kearns ‘was killed in action in Cork some days ago’, and that his funeral had taken place from the Rathmines Catholic church after 10 o’clock Mass ‘yesterday’ [13 October 1922] after the removal of his remains from Portobello Barracks to the church and from the church to Glasnevin Cemetery. His residence was given as 23 Crocus Street in Belfast. See II, 14 Oct. 1921.       

In civilian life Charles Kearns had been a sheet-metal worker in Belfast with weekly wages of £3 10s., which he gave to his mother Annie Kearns for her support. She was awarded a gratuity or dependant’s allowance of £50 in December 1924. One document in the pension file refers to Annie Kearns’s and others’ knowledge of ‘the murder of her son and the stealing of his personal belongings’. See Solicitor Thomas Maguire to Army Pensions Department, 20 Aug. 1924, MSPC/2D298 (Military Archives). The belated efforts of the Irish military authorities to unearth further details about Kearns’s death were unsuccessful.

Charles Kearns and his wife Annie appear in both the 1901 and 1911 censuses as residents of 23 Crocus Street in Belfast—the same address later given by the Irish National Army as the address of the deceased Sergeant Charles Kearns. In the 1911 census the six co-resident children of Charles and Annie Kearns are listed. There were then four sons and two daughters ranging in age from 2 to 15. There was no child named Charles among them, and only six children had been born. The father’s occupation was listed in 1901 and 1911 as ‘lithographic artist’. The eldest child in 1911 was Walter Kearns (aged 15). His parents had then been married for 16 years. It is barely possible that a son named Charles was neither resident nor enumerated in 1911. That appears to be the only sensible conclusion, but one cannot be certain. Another possibility is that son James (aged 9 in 1911) later began using his father’s forename.    

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