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Holyhead - Overview

Holyhead, on Holy Island, is the largest town on Anglesey and is a major sea port with a ferry link to Ireland. This corner of the island is dotted with remains of circular huts, burial chambers and standing stones giving evidence of human settlements here at least since the Neolithic. In the fourth century, the Romans built a fort, Caer, here which probably served as an outpost of Segontium (near Caernarfon). In the sixth century, Saint Cybi founded a church and monastery on the site of the former camp. The Welsh name of Holyhead, Caergybi, therefore shows the town’s Roman and early Christian origins.

For many centuries, Holyhead served as main communications link with Ireland, but Telford’s A5 road, including the Menai Suspension Bridge, and the arrival of the Chester and Holyhead railway in 1844, contributed greatly to the growth of the town. The increased sea traffic made it necessary to develop a new harbour capable of accommodating up to 1000 vessels. Holyhead breakwater was built at the same time to make this ‘New Harbour’ storm proof for ships anchored there, and at 3km is Britain’s longest.

Picturesquely situated on a small rocky island below towering cliffs, the lighthouse at South Stack is not only evidence of Holyhead’s historical importance for shipping, but also of the treacherous rocks below water. Originally built in 1809, it is still in operation and open to visitors today. In the nineteenth century, large colonies of sea birds nested on these cliffs and many tourists came to South Stack Lighthouse to enjoy the spectacle of thousands of shrieking gulls careening through the air.

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