Section of the stone rampart at Caer y Twr, an Iron Age hill-fort atop the summit of Holyhead Mountain, Anglesey © Hawlfraint y Goron / © Crown copyright (2022) Cymru Wales

THE origins of Holyhead (Caergybi) date from 450AD, when Celtic King Caswallon defeated Irish invaders on Holy Island.

The port of Holyhead is the busiest UK Irish ferry port and is home to the largest seagoing ferry in the world.

Holyhead is the largest town on Holy Island, just off the island of Anglesey in north Wales. Despite its isolated position, it is a major ferry port across the Irish Sea to Ireland which has been a crossing point for over 4,000 years.

Super-fast ferries complete the crossing from Holyhead to Dublin in 99 minutes, making it a popular route for foot passengers to make a day trip. It currently handles over two million passengers per year.

Taking the ferry from Holyhead, Wales, across the Irish Sea Credit Philip Dean

There are good views over the port from the grounds of St Cybi’s Church, which also overlooks Captain Skinner monument on Alltran rock. This obelisk was erected by the people of Holyhead in memory of Captain John Macgregor Skinner, a benefactor to the town’s poor who was washed overboard from his ship in 1832.

The town has an interesting harbour and a marina sheltered by the second-longest breakwater in the world.

In the town centre, St Cybi’s Church founded in about 550AD, stands on the site of the Roman fort of Caer Gybi and is still surrounded by the original fort wall.

The surrounding area has many prehistoric sites, including the Neolithic Trefignath Burial Chamber 1.5 miles south east of the town.

There are excellent coastal walks at the Breakwater Country Park; these include audio trails, a new open gallery within the old brick shed and themed walks. The park, along with the RSPB visitor centre in Ellins Tower, South Stack, are popular bird-watching centres.

Holyhead has a fine selection of pubs and restaurants, as well as a good choice of shops and out-of-town shopping centre.

The town was basking in a period of boom at the start of the 20th Century which had extended nearly 50 years. The population of Holyhead had more than doubled between 1841 and 1851, when it reached almost 9,000. By 1901 it had risen further to over 11,000.

The catalyst for all this activity was the decision to direct the mail to Ireland through Holyhead rather than Porthdinllaen, which ensured the town’s future as the main passenger and trading route between the two countries.

One of the first significant benefits to the town was the building of the Chester to Holyhead railway line which was completed in March 1848. The first mail train named ‘The Irish Mail’ arrived at Holyhead on August 1 of that year, and was, incidentally, the first train in the world to be given a ‘name’.

Two major developments ensured Holyhead received national publicity and remained in the public eye throughout this period; the building of the breakwater in the outer harbour, which was completed in 1873 after 28 years’ work, and the extensive redevelopment of the inner harbour, completed in 1880.

The latter project created a new station complex which gave passengers a direct route from ship to rail, a luxurious new hotel and large lairages to accommodate the important and increasing cattle imports from Ireland. Both developments were opened by the Prince of Wales, with Queen Victoria herself having visited Holyhead to view the construction of the breakwater.

Although the Post Office contract to carry mail between the two countries was held by the Dublin Steam Packet Company, it was the London and North Western Railway which was the major player in these developments; its commercial success demonstrated by the fact that by 1883 it had 14 ships sailing from the port to Dublin North Wall and Greenore.

In addition to this commercial activity, Ireland, part of the United Kingdom parliament at that time, had since the 1880s seen a demand from the nationalists in the Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP) for Home Rule, or self-government from Britain, a demand that was eventually acceded to in 1912. The ‘Irish Problem’ as it was called, ensured that there was considerable traffic of the prominent people, particularly politicians, through the port of Holyhead.

Holyhead train station Picture credit: Robert Mann MA Photography © Hawlfraint y Goron / © Crown copyright (2022) Cymru Wales

It was therefore little wonder that the area had attracted the attention of a number of privileged and influential people, nor that Holyhead, and the attractions of Trearddur Bay in particular, became prized as a summer retreat.

It was around this time that a number of the ‘Big Houses’, as they were known locally, were built in the Bay, and it was this influx of wealthy and prominent individuals, supplemented by a number of local professional people, that was to be the impetus for the creation of a golf club.

The existence of a golf course in the area is first mentioned in a brochure dated 1893 which refers to the Tre-Arddur Golf Club and states that “enquiries should be addressed to the Hon Sec at the Tre-Arddur-Bay Hotel or to the proprietor of the Hotel, which is on the links”. It seems that a nine-hole course had been established and financed by the Trearddur Bay Hotel, although as a hotel it was then little more than the private house it had once been.

The course was built to the ‘leeward side’ of the hotel on land leased from the William family of Trecastell (Beaumaris), who were substantial landowners on that side of the bay.

The area around Holyhead has many historic and pre-historic sites, including burial sites at Barcloddiad Yr Gawres and Llys Rhosyr.

Mynydd y Twr is a prehistoric hill fort with traces of standing stones, burial chambers and circular huts on one of the richest sites in Britain.

Holyhead grew up around St Cybi’s Church which was originally a Roman fort. It had defensive walls on three sides and the sea gave protection on the fourth side.

Originally, Holy Island was connected to Anglesey via Four-Mile Bridge. The mile-long causeway, known as the Cob, was constructed in the early 1800s by Sir John Stanly, 1st Baronet of Alderley. It was part of the flood defence system and now carries the A5, along with the coastal path and a cycleway.

In 2001, the A55 dual carriageway was built from Chester all the way to the Holyhead Docks.

Holyhead, with its 13,500 inhabitants, is a bustling town that attracts many visitors as a destination in its own right and as a base for exploring Anglesey.

It has a good choice of shops and restaurants with a leisure centre, theatre and a cinema.

Holyhead is a frequent winner of the ‘Britain in Bloom’ and ‘Wales in Bloom’ contests each year with its colourful floral displays.

View through archway in northern wall to St Cybi’s Church, Caer Gybi © Hawlfraint y Goron / © Crown copyright (2022) Cymru Wales

Among Holyhead’s famous residents are politician Glenys Kinnock and comedian Dawn French, who was born in the town.

In addition to the golf club, Holyhead has plenty of activities nearby. There is excellent fishing, sailing facilities and boat trips.

Walkers and cyclists can enjoy the beautiful scenery and the beaches at Treaddur Bay are perfect for families.

The sheltered coves around Holyhead boast safe bathing in clean waters. Water sports are available and there is a surf school nearby at Rhosneigr.

There is a visitor centre and a webcam to view the many puffins, guillemots and razorbills that nest on South Stack Cliffs.

The Anglesey Coastal Path starts and finishes at St Cybi’s Church and takes in many of the area’s highlights and beaches.

The Maritime Museum at Holyhead is particularly rich in exhibits where visitors can learn about the 100-plus shipwrecks that have happened on the rocky shores nearby.

In the fictional universe of Harry Potter, The Holyhead Harpies is an all-female Quidditch team that plays in the British and Irish Quidditch League.

(sources include Visit Anglesey, Holyhead Golf Club, About Britain, Wikipedia)