Posts Tagged With: Clonmult Ambush

The Story of Ambrose Haley: The World War One Australian Digger Buried in Midleton Graveyard

On 30th December 1918 a party of mourners were led by Canon O’Connor to an open graveside beside the main path at the Church of the Holy Rosary cemetery in Midleton. Those in attendance had walked to the church from the railway station at the other side of town, where they had met and formed a cortège behind a flag-draped coffin. The elm casket had been carried to the church by Timothy Murphy undertakers, who were based on the Main Street. Passers-by would have noted a number of unusual aspects to the funeral; the flag was not the Union Jack, as might be expected, but rather was adorned with the Southern Star. As well as that, the soldiers in attendance wore the slouch hat that marked them not as British troops, but men of the Australian Imperial Force. The young man in the coffin– Ambrose Augustine Haley– was laid to rest in the cemetery following a requiem mass. But he was not a local; indeed he had been born and raised on the other side of the world, thousands of miles away in Tasmania. How was it that he had come to be buried in East Cork? We decided to explore his story. (1)

Gunner Ambrose Haley (Australian War Memorial)

Gunner Ambrose Haley (Australian War Memorial)

Ambrose Augustine Haley was born to Thomas Haley and Mary Ann Haley (née Fox) on 7th December 1892 in Portland, Tasmania. Thomas worked as a clerk, and not long after Ambrose’s birth the family moved along the coast to St. Helens. There Thomas ended up working for J.C. Mac Michael & Co. General Merchants and Importers, who had branches in both St. Helens and Lottah. As Ambrose grew to adulthood he embarked on a career as an accountant, but also found time for more martial pursuits, spending a year in the cadets. (2)

Ambrose was not among the first rush of volunteers for service in the army; indeed he was not the first of his family to join the colours. His younger brother Jack enlisted in the recently formed 40th Battalion at Claremont, Tasmania on 8th March 1916. The 21-year-old shop assistant must have looked forward to heading to the seat of action, but he was to be disappointed. After just over a month Jack was discharged as medically unfit. The reason was the impaired vision he suffered in his left eye, the result of an accident with a whip when he was a child. Ambrose decided to take the plunge only a few months after his brother. On 7th November 1916, at the age of 23 years 11 months, the young accountant entered a Claremont recruiting office; when he emerged he was a gunner in the Australian army. The following year a third brother, Urban, would make the same journey. He enlisted on 23rd March 1917 at the age of 20– as he was under 21 his parents had to sign a permission slip for him to be deployed overseas. Thomas and Mary Ann consented, but his father stipulated that the consent was predicated on the fact that ‘he goes in a clerical position as promised by the Minister of Defence in the case of Military Staff Clerks.’ By this point in the war, everyone was aware of the risks. (3)

Australian artillerymen laying an 18 pounder at Maribyrnong in 1917 (Australian War Memorial)

Australian artillerymen laying an 18 pounder at Maribyrnong in 1917 (Australian War Memorial)

Ambrose spent the first few weeks of his service in Tasmania, before leaving his island home for what would prove the final time in January 1917. On the 9th of that month he sailed for the mainland, where he joined a pool of artillery reinforcements based at Maribyrnong near Melbourne. Here he waited for his deployment overseas while training continued. On 11th May Ambrose boarded the troop transport Ascanius, bound for Devonport, Plymouth. The young Tasmanian was off to join the Australian Imperial Force in Europe. The arduous journey to the other side of the world took more than two months, and Ambrose didn’t have a good time of it. He had to spend a day in the ship’s hospital en-route, and was no doubt delighted to finally arrive in England on 20th July 1917. (4)

The Ascanius which brought Ambrose to Europe (Australian War Memorial)

The Ascanius which brought Ambrose to Europe (Australian War Memorial)

It is difficult to imagine what it must have been like for the young Tasmanian arriving in England for the first time, but whatever his feelings, Ambrose was given little time to acclimatise. He was immediately whisked off to Larkhill in Wiltshire, home to the School of Instruction for Royal Horse and Field Artillery. For nearly eight weeks he continued his training as a gunner with No. 3 Battery, Reserve Brigade Australian Artillery, before word finally came that he was on the move again– this time to the Western Front. The 18th September 1917 found Ambrose in Southampton, boarding a vessel bound for France. (5)

Australian artillery in action in Passchendaele, October 1917 (Australian War Memorial)

Australian artillery in action in Passchendaele, October 1917 (Australian War Memorial)

In France Ambrose initially formed part of the 12th Reinforcements of the 15th Field Artillery Brigade, but within a few days he received his permanent assignment. He became a gunner in the 2nd Field Artillery Brigade, which formed part of the artillery compliment of the 1st Division, Australian Imperial Force. When he joined his new unit in Belgium on 5th October, they were in the midst of the bloody slog that was the Third Battle of Ypres, better known as the Battle of Passchendaele. Having spent months in training and traveling, Ambrose was finally at the front. It was not an environment he would experience for very long. (6)

Shell dump for Australian artillery at 'Birr Crossroads', near Ypres in October 1917, the mnth Ambrose was wounded © IWM (E(AUS) 1991)

Shell dump for Australian artillery at ‘Birr Crossroads’, near Ypres in October 1917– the month Ambrose was wounded © IWM (E(AUS) 1991)

Only six days after joining his unit, on 11th October 1917, Ambrose was shot in the left arm. He was rushed to 3rd Australian Field Ambulance at Wippenhoek, which was described as ‘an old and very well designed rest station to accommodate 300 cases.’ Among the facilities were a number of rudimentary buildings, including a hospital nissen hut and a small kitchen. Ambrose was one of 23 men admitted to the Field Ambulance on the 11th, which at the time was caring for 249 patients. (7)

Members of the 13th Australian Field Ambulance at Passchendaele © IWM (E(AUS) 839)

Members of the 13th Australian Field Ambulance at Passchendaele © IWM (E(AUS) 839)

From Wippenhoek, Ambrose was moved to the 17th Casualty Clearing Station. By the 12th October he was a patient in the 7th Canadian General Hospital at Étaples, the major depot area for British and Commonwealth troops in France. His long road to recovery was only just beginning. He was still in hospital in February 1918, four months after he was hit. Shortly thereafter it appears he had recovered sufficiently to be given some leave. It was probably at this time that Ambrose traveled to Ireland, although he may have done so when he initially arrived in Europe. The reason he visited is also the reason that would ultimately see him buried in the town. Midleton had been the home of Ambrose’s grandmother, Mary Josephine Lynch. Mary had apparently been one of the first pupils of Midleton’s Presentation Convent, before she emigrated to Colebrook, Tasmania in the mid-19th century. Ambrose’s mother Mary Ann Fox was her daughter. Apparently no fewer than six of Mary Josephine Lynch’s grandchildren and a son-in-law enlisted in the Australian military during World War One. According to the Irish Examiner, the same Midleton Lynch family also had men serving in the American army in France. Ambrose’s grandmother had lived on William Street (now the New Cork Road), and the young Tasmanian Digger still had Lynch relatives living there. The 1911 Census records them at No. 51, where 79-year-old Margaret Lynch resided with her daughters Helen and Elizabeth, granddaughter Eileen O’Sullivan and boarder Daniel O’Flaherty. Ambrose supposedly stayed in this house during his visit. (8)

Notification that Ambrose had been wounded in 1917 (Ambrose Haley Service Record)

Notification that Ambrose had been wounded in 1917 (Ambrose Haley Service Record)

Eventually recovered, Ambrose was finally able to rejoin his unit on 31st August 1918. However, the unfortunate young man’s front line service was to again prove brief. He reported sick on 27th September, apparently suffering from slight deafness, no doubt caused by the noise of the guns. On 29th September he was sent to the 1st Australian General Hospital in Rouen, before being shipped back to England aboard the Hospital Ship Essequibo on 2nd October. Ambrose finally ended up in the Graylingwell War Hospital in Chichester, where his condition continued to worsen. His parents, who had initially been informed that his condition was not serious, must have been shocked to receive a communication in Tasmania on 19th November that simply stated: ‘Now reported Gunner Ambrose Haley dangerously ill condition stationary further progress report expected.’ Ambrose’s brother Urban, who was serving as a Warrant Officer at Australian Imperial Force Headquarters on 130 Horseferry Road in London, likely tried to visit his stricken brother. It transpired that Ambrose’s body was ravaged with cancer; the disease had taken control of his pancreas lungs, spleen and ‘other organs.’ The 26-year-old Tasmanian succumbed to the illness on Christmas Day 1918. (9)

Notification of Ambrose's Death (Ambrose Haley Service Record)

Notification of Ambrose’s Death (Ambrose Haley Service Record)

So it was that five days later Ambrose’s brother Urban (who would soon receive the Meritorious Service Medal for devotion to duty during the period from September-November 1918) joined Australian Imperial Force representative Sergeant C.E. Hunkin in Holy Rosary cemetery, Midleton. The Haley’s Midleton relatives had offered their family grave as a final resting for their Tasmanian Digger cousin. One of those relatives– Timothy Christopher O’Sullivan– was of an age with Ambrose and probably attended the funeral. Less than three years later he would be the next person remembered at the plot, when he was killed while serving with the I.R.A. at the Clonmult Ambush on 20th February 1921, at the aged of 28. Military tragedy had not steered clear of the family for long. It is unlikely that Ambrose’s parents ever made it from Tasmania to Midleton to visit their son’s grave, but it must have given them some comfort to know that he rested with family. The story of their son, and that of the Lynches and O’Sullivans, is just one of thousands preserved in stone in the Midleton cemetery. (10)

The grave of Ambrose Augustine Haley in Midleton (Damian Shiels)

The grave of Ambrose Augustine Haley in Midleton (Damian Shiels)

Close up of inscription on the grave of Ambrose Augustine Haley in Midleton (Damian Shiels)

Close up of inscription on the grave of Ambrose Augustine Haley in Midleton (Damian Shiels)

(1) Irish Examiner, Haley Service Record; (2) Tasmanian Births, Ambrose Augustine Haley Service Record; (3) Ambrose Augustine Haley Service Record, John Marshall Haley Service Record, Urban Aloysius Joseph Haley Service Record; (4) Ambrose Augustine Haley Service Record; (5) Larkhill Camp, Ambrose Augustine Haley Service Record; (6) Ibid.; (7) Ibid., 3rd Australian Field Ambulance War Diary; (8) Ambrose Augustine Haley Service Record, Irish Examiner, 1911 Census of Ireland; (9) Ambrose Augustine Haley Service Record; (10) Ambrose Augustine Haley Service Record, Urban Aloysius Joseph Haley Service Record;


Irish Examiner 2nd January 1919. Southern Items

1414 John Marshall Haley Australian War Service Record

34423 Ambrose Augustine Haley Australian War Service Record

3441 Urban Aloysius Joseph Haley Australian War Service Record

3rd Australian Field Ambulance War Diary, October 1917

Diggers History: Larkhill Camp

Tasmanian Births in the District of Portland, 1892

1911 Census of Ireland, 51 William Street Midleton

Categories: 20th Century, World War One | Tags: , , , , , , , | 21 Comments

The 1920 Midleton Ambush- Battle on the Main Street

One of the aims of this project will be to share information about the town and the environs. To kick off we are going to look at a remarkable account of an event that took place right in the centre of the town during the War of Independence. It forms one of the statements in the Bureau of Military History, which collected reminiscences from those involved in the 1916 Rebellion and the War of Independence. One of the accounts was provided by Commandant Patrick J. Whelan, who had served with ‘B’ (Midleton) Company, 4th Battalion, Cork No.1 Brigade and the 4th Battalion Flying Column during the War of Independence.

The burnt cottage at Clonmult, where 12 members of the local Flying Column were killed (a further two were executed later). Many of these men had participated in the Midleton Ambush.

The burnt cottage at Clonmult, where 12 members of the local Flying Column were killed (two more were later executed). Many of these men had participated in the Midleton Ambush.

Patrick Whelan was born in Co. Wexford on 10 February 1896, but moved to Cobh with his family at an early age. He was later one of a number of members of ‘B’ Company who worked at Pat Hallinan’s Engineering Works in Midleton. On the night of 29 December 1920 he was one of the members of the Column who decided to launch an attack on a patrol of R.I.C. (Royal Irish Constabulary) and Black and Tans in the town. Patrick has left a remarkable account of events that evening, when the Main Street of Midleton was briefly transformed into a battleground:

The whole column, including Jack Aherne and myself, moved into Midleton under cover of darkness, and assembled at a saw-mills in Charles Street [now Connolly Street]. From the saw-mills, Jack and I continued on to the main street. We arranged that I would take up position at the corner of Charles Street which is situated about midway in the main street, and at right-angles to it. Jack posted himself further down the main street, in the vicinity of the Midleton Arms Hotel.

We were armed with .45 Webley revolvers and wore trench coats and capes. I was only about five minutes at my post when I saw a patrol of Black and Tans, marching slowly towards me. They move in pairs, about six paces apart and on both sides of the street, four pairs on my side and two pairs on the opposite side, together with an old R.I.C. man named Mullins. All were armed with rifles and revolvers, with the rifles slung on their shoulders.

In the last pair on my side was a Constable Gordon with whom I was well acquainted before I joined the column. When passing, he noticed me and, evidently surprised at seeing me, shouted, “Hello, Paddy!”. I said, “Hello, Gordie!”, which was my usual way of addressing him. For a moment, I thought he would leave the ranks and come over to me, but fortunately he carried on with the patrol. I am sure my heart missed a beat or two. Gordon knew me well. He had not seen me for the previous few months, and now he was looking at me wearing a trench coat and cap, items of apparel which I had never previously worn in his presence. I remember wondering if he suspected something was afoot. If he did, he kept his suspicions to himself, as the patrol continued sedately down the street. I waited until he had passed Jack Aherne, when I went and collected him, and reported back to Diarmuid Hurley, comparing notes on our way. We had a perfect picture of the whole patrol, and lost no time in describing their disposition to Hurley. He immediately issued his orders.

There were sixteen of us, all intimate with the lay-out, knowing every house and doorway in the main street. Ten of us took positions in doorways between Charles Street and along about forty yards of the main street up to the Midleton Arms Hotel. The remainder did likewise on the opposite side of the street. I was at the corner of Charles Street and Main Street, and Diarmuid Hurley was at the Midleton Arms Hotel end of Main Street, on the same side as I was. It was decided that, when the patrol was between our two positions on the return journey, Hurley would open fire, and this was to be the signal for all of us to go into action. Each one of our party was armed with a revolver.

We were only about five minutes in position when the patrol returned- still in the same order as I had seen it earlier. Hurley judged his shot to perfection, and at once all of us opened fire. The patrol was taken completely by surprise and, in comparatively short time, the attack was over. Some of the Tans did fire back at us, and there were a few narrow escapes on our side. Dan Cashman of Midleton was fortunate to be carrying a cigarette case in his vest pocket- it was badly dented by a bullet, but it probably saved his life. Jim McCarthy of Midleton, although not a member of the column, took part in the attack, and was wounded in the wrist. Otherwise, we escaped unscathed.

But what of the patrol? Constable Mullins was shot dead, and about six other Tans wounded, some of whom died later from their wounds. Some of the patrol threw their rifles on the street and ran away. “Gordie” escaped uninjured, and somehow I was glad of this as I still think he was not of an evil nature. Two of the Black and Tans were lying on the footpath near me, bleeding profusely.

Sergeant Moloney of the Midleton R.I.C. had been sent earlier to the house of a British ex officer, to collect the latter’s uniform. The sergeant was returning to barracks with the uniform, and as his return coincided with the attack, he came under our fire, was shot in the foot, and dropped the uniform convenient to where I was, and only a few yards from one of the wounded Black and Tans. I knelt down beside the Tan and spoke to him. He told me his name, which I have now forgotten, and said he was from Liverpool. He said he would resign if he recovered from his wounds. He then offered me his wallet. I took it from his hand and put it back in the breast pocket of his tunic, and told him I was doing so. I then got the uniform which Sergeant Moloney had dropped, folded it and placed it under the Tan’s head. The poor fellow lost a lot of blood, and I expect he was one of those who eventually died of wounds.

I cannot say with any certainty now what number of rifles and revolvers we captured that night. I do know I secured one rifle and one revolver, and I’m sure the rest of our lads were just as successful. This attack took place only a few hundred yards from the R.I.C. barracks and about five hundred yards from the military post. The whole affair lasted about twenty minutes. We withdrew by the same route as we had arrived. All the boys were in great form, and they had every right to be, but I recall having mixed feelings, due to my intimate contact with the wounded Black and Tan.

Patrick’s account is a fascinating insight into the main incident of the War of Independence in Midleton. Three R.I.C. and Black and Tan patrol men died as a result of the nights actions. These were Constable Martin Mullen, twenty-one year old Constable Ernest Dray and twenty-three year old Constable Arthur Thorp.

The Flying Column’s attack in Midleton led to the first official reprisals carried out by the British military during the War of Independence. Brigadier-General Higginson, commanding in the area, had leaflets distributed around the town (one of which survives in the National Museum of Ireland) informing residents that a number of houses would be burned in response to the attack. Those targeted were the houses of John O’Shea, Paul McCarthy and Edmond Carey of Midleton as well as a number of homes in Ballyrichard and Ballyadam. Extraordinary British Pathe film survives of the aftermath of this reprisal, showing the damage it caused to the town. To see the video click here.

The ambush and its consequences were undoubtedly some of the most dramatic episodes in Midleton’s history, when just over 90 years ago the busiest part of the town was suddenly transformed into a warzone.


Bureau of Military History Witness Statement 1449. 1956. Statement of Commandant Patrick J. Whelan, Vice Commandant, 4th Battalion, Cork No. 1 Brigade

Hart, Peter (Ed.) 2009. Rebel Cork’s Fighting Story 1916-21

Categories: War of Independence | Tags: , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Create a free website or blog at