Runaway Rock

I found this article in an online copy of the Newfoundland Quarterly that I found at the Internet Archives. The ‘Runaway Rock’ is a landmark in the Holyrood area with a long and romantic history that most people today know nothing about. I’m afraid that I can’t guarantee the accuracy of this particular story, but I think you’ll find it interesting.

Newfoundland Quarterly 1915-16, Christmas Edition. Vol. XV-No. 3, December 1915 page 40
page238 of nfldquart191516.djvu

The Internet Archives
Nf Quarterly 1915-16

The Runaway Rock

by H. F. Shortis

When it comes to Christmas stories I like to give my readers something interesting about the past history of our native country. I have told you about Guire’s Rock, situated at Bristol’s Hope, which tradition says marks the spot of the birth of the first white child in Newfoundland. It also marks the place where the first missionary  landed.

Now, I want to tell you about another noted land-mark near Holyrood. What a queer name — the Runaway Rock!  I can hear some of my friends say! What sort of a riddle are you giving us now ? But before I have finished my story you will say the name is an appropriate one.

If any Newfoundlander would like to see this Rock, he can easily do so by leaving the train at the Watering Station, just before you reach Brien’s Stand, on the south side of Holyrood.  On going to the sea shore, you’ll see a very large prominent rock and near it a flat one. There is no danger of the rock running away for even the giants of old could not
move it.

There is many an Irish family living at the head of Conception Bay who point out with loving remembrance to that old rock, as it is connected with the very earliest settlement of the Irish in our country.  In the September number of the “Cadet”, the Premier, Sir Edward Morris, gave us some historical gems from Irish literature showing the extent of the trade between Waterford and Newfoundland one hundred and forty years ago.

We also know that in 1693 when the Abbe Baudoin wrote D’lberville’s French invasion round Conception Bay that he met many Irish youngsters who were treated in a most tyrannical and oppressive manner by their employers. The general custom was for those youngsters to come out as apprentices under contract for “two summers and a winter,” getting little or nothing for their labor, and treated more like slaves than human beings. St. John’s was the great centre of this Irish immigration, its population to-day, as compared with other parts of the Island, is proof positive of that. Those youngsters were treated so bad that it was a common thing to hear that they had “run away.” The refuge for those ” runaway” youngsters was a farm owned and worked by two old Irishmen, named respectively, Fahey and Farthy and whose names should never be forgotten. They lived on the point of land at Chapel Cove near Harbor Main, easily seen from the train as you pass along.

Those youngsters when they ran away from St. John’s crossed over to Topsail and then walked across the Beach to Kelligrews or Kelly’s Grove, as it was known,–then they reached the well-known landmark Runaway Rock, near the entrance to Holyrood Harbor. This Rock is situated right across from the point of land where Fahey and Farthy had their farm. It was a long walk of ten or twelve miles to go right around the head of Holyrood harbor, but the signal of a fire lighted on the flat rock near the Runaway Rock brought a boat quickly from the farm to meet the runaway youngsters. They at once met with congenial companions, who had a hiding place for them in case there was any search or effort made to bring them back to St. John’s. They worked at the farm for their board during the winter, but when the fishery opened up in the Spring, they were free to find employment where they wished.

We talk of the good old times, but we have much to be thankful for that there is such an improvement in the welfare of our country to-day as compared with those reminiscences that I have brought up– still none the less is the tradition of the Runaway Rock handed down from father to son with kind remembrances of that safety in sight and that hope for liberty that is so strong in the hearts of all Newfoundlanders.

It was that love of Liberty handed down from father to son, which induced so many of our countrymen to leave our shores during the great struggle in the United States in the sixties of the past century and which is known as the Civil War. It is true that by far the great majority of the descendants of those pioneers who found refuge at the Runaway Rock and Fahey and Farthy’s farm entered the Navy rather than the Army. It was in their blood to do so. They were nursed on the sea, both at the cod and seal fisheries. But all the same many of them joined the Federal Army and rose to distinction by their natural pluck, perseverance, agility, love of adventure and their determination to be first in the place of danger. It was second nature to them.

Those of the descendants of those Irish youngsters who joined the American Army (and I knew several of them) preferred one of the Irish Brigades, commanded by such heroes as Meagher , Corcoran, McCabe and others. And it is about one of those brigades that I shall confine myself in the following true account of the great battle in which they took a prominent part. As we find the O’Learys, Dwyers, O’Sullivans and others today being honored by their King and country, for their daring and heroism, so it was during the great Civil War, so it was at Cremona, Fontenoy, Badajos, the passage of the Douro and every other battle in which they fought, and so it will be in the future. At the time of which I write fifty-three years ago, the papers of the whole world spoke of their gallantry, and never perhaps did it shine forth more brilliantly than at the great battle near Richmond, except it may be at Gettysburg.

At that great battle, when the affairs of the Northern Army did not look too bright General Sumner rode up in front of the 88th (which was first in the melee), as they were about to charge into the open through which ran the railroad, the timber on the opposite side being held by a strong body of rebels who were pouring in a withering fire. by which the regiments of Howard’s and French’s brigades had already been terribly cut up. It was the crisis of the fight, and General Richardson declared that if they lost the position it would have gone hard with the Union Army. General Sumner said. addressing the men.–

” Boys, I am your General. I know the Irish Brigade will not retreat.” He
put his hand up, and touching his shoulder strap continued.–” I stake
my position on you: if you run. I’ll have to run also, and tear these from
my shoulders.”

Sergeant McCabe of Co. K, said,–“General, we have never run yet, and
we are not going to begin now.”

” I know it–I know it”, said the General as he rode off.

The 88th gave a ringing cheer and dashed out into the open field. The enemy thought they intended to charge clear into the woods in which they were hidden, and so reserved their fire for the expected struggle; but when the 88th got as far as the railroad–a little better than half way across–they halted and poured in a volley so close and deadly that when the woods were entered afterwards every ten feet of the edge, and for several yards inwards, were strewn with dead or wounded rebels.

A special Providence seems to have watched over the Brigade, that they suffered so little in so deadly a contest. The 69th, who behaved so gallantly, had but one man killed, poor Herbert, who was one of the Brigade of His Holiness the Pope. He fell at the first fire. The regiment suffered most while advancing in column, under the fire of the enemy; after they got into line of battle, their steady fire and well directed volleys soon cleared their front of the foe.

General Meagher, with his staff, was indefatigable in cheering and invigorating the men during the fight. Several times the enemy directed their fire upon his position, so that it is wonderful how he and his aides escaped.

Colonial Baker, of the 88th, was personally complimented by Generals Sumner, Richardson and Meagher for his bravery and soldierly ability, and for the manner in which his regiment acted during the engagement. Major Cavanagh and Lieut. James Kelly of the 66th also distinguished themselves; the latter wielded a musket during the intervals in which he was not engaged in directing the movements of his wing of the regiment.

What the Irish Brigades performed during the Civil War in the cause of Liberty, the Irish regiments of the great British Army in Flanders, France and the East are performing with the same heroism and gallantry, and in whatever battle that has been fought during the present terrible war against the Huns, the Irish Guards, Connaught Rangers. Dublin Fusiliers, Munster and Leinster Fusiliers, Royal Irish and all the other regiments will be found at the post of danger doing their part, in conjunction with their friends the English. Scotch and Welsh, and in the  Newfoundland Regiment are to be found those heroes, the descendants of those Irish youngsters of our early days, (when Liberty was not extended as it is to-day) who took refuge at the Runaway Rock, and, who, shoulder to shoulder with their comrades the descendants of their English and Scotch ancestors, are bravely upholding the flag of our Great Empire in defense of humanity at large, as well as upholding the honor and glory of our beloved country–dear old Newfoundland.

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