At Least 22 Native-Born Irishmen Died for the Cause
The rattle of drums pealed
through the sultry air of June 17,
1775. As the sun glinted off
bayonets, the Redcoats formed
columns and tramped over heaps of
fallen comrades for a third time
up the slope of Breed's Hill.
Behind a rail fence, a
redoubt, and a breastwork, the
Rebels waited, pouring their last
powder and ramrodding their last
musket balls down their muzzles.
Many colonists lay sprawled amid
the defenses, homespun shirts
stained with blood, screams and
groans echoing across the slope.
But on the grass in front of the
fortifications lay many more British
regulars, hundreds of them, a carpet
of red coats and white crossbelts.
Historians would assert that the Colonial farmers,
tradesmen, lawyers, and physicians taking on the vaunted British
Army were "wholly English." These scholars would neglect to
mention that men named Callaghan, Casey, Collins, Connelly,
Dillon, Donohue, Flynn, McGrath, Nugent, Shannon, and Sullivan
fired "at the whites of their [British] eyes" at the Battle of
Bunker Hill (actually Breed's Hill). Although generations of
American writers would cling to their myth that only Patriots
"of pure English blood, with a small fraction of Huguenots and
a slight mingling ...of Scotch Irish" taught the British Army a
harsh lesson at Charleston in 1775, Irish volunteers helped to
man the defenses there and "the sons of the Green Isle" shed
their blood for the dream of American Independence.
On the slopes of Breed's Hill, at least twenty-two
native-born Irishmen died for the Rebel cause. Irish-American
historian Michael J. O'Brien was the man who first puntured the
myth that no Irishmen stood shoulder to shoulder with the Rebels.
Through painstaking research, he discovered that forty one (41)
companies of Patriots at Breed's Hill counted Irish casualties
in their ranks.
O'Brien next targeted the "Scotch-Irish" fallacy, used by
scholars to obscure the role of Irish in the American Revolution.
By defining Rebels with unquestionable surnames as "descendants
of the Scotch and English" who had subjugated the North of
Ireland, eminent Anglo-American writers inaccurately hid the true
lineage of men whose bloodlines were "Clanna na Gael," pure
As O'Brien reveals, many men who fell at the Battle of
Breed's Hill were Irish-born. Unlike his predecessors, O'Brien
credited both the Irish and Scottish Patriots as separate
entities and harangued scholars for "drawing an Iron Curtain
around the Irish, who... brought to America burning memories of
the treatment their people had received at the hands of the
English, and so were glad of the opportunity to take part in the
fight." And fight they did.
On June 17, 1775, 2,500 British Regulars piled into
longboats and were rowed to Morton's Hill as warships and
batteries atop Copp's Hill bombarded the Rebels dug in on Breed's
Hill. The British had already set Charlestown ablaze, and from
the colonists' bastions, Daniel Callaghan, Thomas Doyle, and
scores of fellow Irishmen peered at a frightening sight. Down
Morton's Hill streamed masses of Redcoats, regimental colors
hoisted above hundreds of tri-cornered caps and Grenadiers'
"shakos" (high, gilded hats). The British drums boomed ever
louder as the scarlet ranks formed assault columns in a meadow
fronting Breed's Hill.
In the ranks of the Irish-born defenders were a number
of deserters from British regiments. In Ireland, "press gangs"
had kidnapped many young men, hauled them, bound and gagged
aboard troop transports, and informed them that they had
"enlisted" in King George III's service. Once in Boston, many
Irish soldiers deserted at the first opportunity and eagerly
joined the Rebel militia to strike back at their British
oppressors. Because British officers posted rewards for Irish
deserters "now with the Rebels, " many of the refugees changed
their names. But at least seven Irish deserters fought under
their own name at Breed's Hill.
Typical of them was Thomas Kincaid, "in Ireland a victim
of the much-dreaded press gangs." He had "deserted the British
flag and on offering his services to the Americans ... was made
a sergeant." Another Kincaid, fourteen-year-old Samuel,Thomas's
son, had joined his father in America, and on June 17, 1775,
stood behind the American defenses as a drummer boy, willing to
die alongside his father for their adopted cause. The elder
Kincaide and other Irish deserters proved welcome additions to
the Rebels, for the Irishmen knew their way around muskets and
Now, on that sultry June day, the Kincaids watched as the
redcoats surged in perfect order up the slope. They pressed forward,
their bayonets flashing, their drums pounding. Suddenly Kincaid,
Doyle, and the other Rebels squeezed their muskets' triggers, and
the muzzles' din muffled the drums. Smoke shrouded the hill. As it
slowly dissipated, the redcoats were retreating, dead and wounded
heaped along the grass. The Rebels' cheers followed the British
down the hill.
As the Redcoats reformed columns, the Patriots' cheers
faded. Again the scarlet lines came on in perfect order to their
drummer boys' cadence. For a second time the Rebels held their
fire with admirable discipline and then unleashed murderous
blasts. The Redcoats staggered back down the hill, hundreds
more screaming, writhing, or silent across the slope.
Believing the battle over, more rounds of cheers erupted
from the defenders. Then, slowly, through gaps in the smoke, the
Rebels spied the Redcoats reassembled. The cheers ceased, and
with the Patriots' realization that they were down to their last
shots, scores of men began to edge away from their posts.
Once more the British drums pealed. The columns marched
over prone comrades up the slope. The Rebels' muzzles barked
and felled dozens more Regulars. But this time the Redcoats
swarmed over the defenses and plunged bayonets into the reeling
Patriots. Daniel Callaghan and Thomas Doyle "literally flung
themselves in the path of the advancing forces" to match
bayonet thrusts with the British and perished in the melee of
metal. Many of their fellow Irishmen also died in that final
British charge; however, scores of others escaped to battle the
Redcoats on other fields.
The sons of Erin paid a dear price in 1775 on the slopes
of Breed's Hill- commonly referred to today as Bunker Hill,
where the landmark memorial now stands- to face the British
The Rebels had littered Breed's Hill with 228 British
dead and 828 wounded - a staggering casualty rate of forty-two
percent (ten percent is considered high). And men with such names
as Callaghan, Doyle, Kelley, Ryan, Donohue, and Sullivan had done
their part in the Rebels' ranks.
Despite countless writers who tried to bury the exploits
of these Irishborn men who fought and died at Breed's Hill, the
truth is emblazoned upon the Memorial Tablets of the Bunker Hill
Monument. There, alongside the names of Yankee Rebels are those of
their Irish comrades in arms.
of American Liberty on the Slopes of Breed's Hill.