Holyhead is located on Holy Island, Anglesey, on the north west tip of Wales. The town is best known as the ferry port that links Wales to Ireland via the Irish ports of Dublin and Dun Laoghaire. However, it's position on the beautiful Holy Island with fine beaches at Trearddur Bay and Porth Dafarch, an abundance of historic sites, and the dramatic cliffs of North and South Stack make Holyhead more than just a stopping off point while waiting for the Ferry to Ireland.
The town is built around the Church of St Cybi, which itself is built inside the walls of a Roman fort and naval base that was founded in the late 3rd century in an attempt to control pirates in the Irish Sea. The remains of the Roman walls, with the corner towers still standing, are some 13ft, in height and at the southern end of the site is the nave of a 14th Century small detached chapel built over Cybi's grave.
Saint Cybi founded the parish church in the 6th century, and the church has suffered a violent history, being sacked by the Vikings in the 10th century and by the English during the Glyndwr Rebellion in the early 15th century. Henry IV's army invaded Anglesey from Ireland and sadly, when Henry's men returned to Dublin, they took with them St. Cybi's shrine and relics. Another assault on the church took place in the 17th century when Cromwell's soldiers systematically destroyed the interior windows, font, tombs, and statues.
The present day church is perpendicular in style, reminding me of St Beuno's Church in Clynnog Fawr, the chancel is 13th century with the remainder being 15th to 16th century. There are fine stained glass windows, and interesting stone carvings can be found both on the parapet and in the church porch.
However, the history of Holyhead and Holy Island can be traced much further back than the 6th century Christian saints, and indeed further back than the Romans. There are a number of prehistoric sites on the Isle of Anglesey and Holy Island has more than it's fair share.
The Ty Mawr Hut Circles, just a few miles from Holyhead on the north side of Holy Island, date from the Neolithic to the end of the Roman period. Close by are the Penrhos Feilw Standing Stones, a pair of standing stones, almost 10ft, 3m, high, probably dating from the Bronze age. In addition, close to the small seaside resort of Trearddur Bay is the Trefignath Burial Chamber, dating from the Neolithic age.
Holyhead Maritime Museum: On Newry Beach, in the old lifeboat station, you will find the Holyhead Maritime Museum where the more recent maritime history of the town is on display. The interesting displays include the diver's suit worn by a local man, Norman Owen, who, finding himself trapped underwater started to hack off two of his fingers with his diving knife. He was still unable to free himself and with his air supply fast running out he signalled to the surface to pull him up. This action although saving his life also tore off the remainder of his fingers!
Captain Skinner Monument: Other objects of interest within the town include the Captain Skinner Monument. The people of Holyhead raised the money to pay for this monument by voluntary subscription, showing their high regard for the sea Captain who had survived service in the American War of Independence. Having spent over 30 years working as a captain on the route between Holyhead and Dublin he was drowndead in heavy seas close to the harbour at North Stack.
Admiralty Arch: Another monument is the Admiralty Arch that celebrates the end of the A5 road that stretches from Marble Arch in London to Holyhead. The A5 was constructed in the early 19th Century by the engineering genius Thomas Telford to carry the post by stagecoach between the capital of England and Dublin the capital of Ireland. It looks as if they ran out of money by the time they reached Holyhead however, as the Holyhead version is a very poor copy of the beautiful Arch to be seen in the centre of London.
South Stack Island and RSPB Reserve: For nature lovers and bird watchers Holyhead can offer the South Stack Island and lighthouse. Just a few miles along the rugged coast from Holyhead harbour lies the South Stack Lighthouse, that has been protecting passing ships since it's completion in 1809. Today the South Stack is a major attraction for visitors to Holy Island with many coming to see the thousands of birds including guillemots, razorbills and puffins that nest on the sheer cliff face. There is an RSPB station on the cliff top at Ellin's Tower, with fine viewpoints of the Island.
However, if you plan to visit the picturesque lighthouse island be prepared for the 400 stone steps that lead down to the suspension bridge that crosses the deep channel to the island.
Breakwater Country Park: Nature and wildlife lovers will appreciate the Country Park close to the outer harbour, over 100 acres of amazing beauty. Interesting birdlife commonly seen at the park include the stonechat, chough and peregrine falcon with oystercatchers and cormorants on the coast. You may also be fortunate to spot seals, regular visitors to the Anglesey coastline.
The park was formed by the extraction of over 7 million tonnes of rock from Holyhead Mountain to form the massive Holyhead breakwater. The breakwater is widely acknowledged as one of Britain's finest, and was built to create a safe harbour for ships in Holyhead and the Irish Sea. Today the breakwater is worth a visit in itself being popular with both walkers and anglers.
A hodgepodge of text from our original Holyhead page:
A walk down Holyhead's Stanley Street in the town centre leads past the Stanley Arms public house. Bear right downhill to the harbour road. Pass St Cybis Church and the Roman Walls. The Celtic Gateway Bridge Holyhead can be seen linking the Port to the town centre. Through the Dock fencing can be seen the Admiralty Arch, Clockhouse, and harbour buildings on Salt Island in Holyhead inner harbour. A rather plain memorial stone to Thomas Telford stands alongside the road near to the harbour.. Across the water can be seen the Captain Skinner memorial overlooking the harbour at Holyhead. Bearing to the west walk along the Holyhead promenade alongside the outer harbour, with Holyhead Mountain as backdrop, passing Hibernian Terrace and the allotments near the harbour. You might be fortunate to see One man and his dog digging in the allotments with the Irish Ferries in the background. The popular Harbour front Bistro sits alongside the water with the Holyhead Maritime Museum next door. Across the harbour waters can be seen Holyhead breakwater, Holyhead Lighthouse on the outer breakwater Holyhead. At the far end of the promenade can be seen Holyhead Marina. A trip around Holy Island leads to the South Stack Lighthouse, and nature reserve, the Ty Mawr Hut Circles close to South Stack. Leaving South Stack we visit the Penrhos Feilw Standing stones en-route to the beautiful beach and former harbour, Porth Dafarch on Holy Island Anglesey.