Holyhead (Welsh: Caergybi, “Cybi’s fort”) is the largest town in the county of Anglesey in Wales. It is also a community and a major Irish Sea port, serving Ireland.
Despite being the largest town in the county, with a population of 11,237 at the 2001 census, it is neither the county town nor actually on the island of Anglesey. With other Holy Island settlements and nearby Valley, Anglesey, the population of the Holyhead area is 16,000. Holyhead is located on Holy Island. It was originally connected to Anglesey via Four Mile Bridge, so called because the bridge was four miles (6 km) from Holyhead on the old turnpike Road. In the mid 19th century, Lord Stanley, a local philanthropist, funded the building of a larger causeway, known locally as “The Cobb”, it now carries the A5 and the railway line. The A55 dual carriageway runs parallel to the Cobb on a modern causeway.
The town centre is built around St. Cybi’s Church, which is built inside one of Europe’s few three-walled Roman forts (the fourth wall being the sea, which used to come up to the fort). The Romans also built a watchtower on the top of Holyhead Mountain inside Mynydd y Twr, a prehistoric hillfort.
Settlements in the area date from prehistoric times, with circular huts, burial chambers and standing stones featuring in the highest concentration in Britain. The current lighthouse is on South Stack on the other side of Holyhead Mountain and is open to the public. The area is also popular with birdwatchers.
The Port of Holyhead has a busy ferry port. Stena Line, Northern Europe’s biggest ferry company, operates from the port, as do Irish Ferries. Ferries sail to Dublin, with a limited once a day sailing to Dún Laoghaire in Ireland; this forms the principal link for surface transport from central and northern England and Wales to Ireland.
There is archaeological evidence that people have been sailing between Holyhead and Ireland for 4,000 years. Holyhead’s maritime importance was at its height in the 19th century with a 1.7 mile length or (3 km) sea breakwater. Holyhead Breakwater is the longest in the UK and was built to create a safe harbour for vessels caught in stormy waters on their way to Liverpool and the industrial ports of Lancashire. Holyhead’s sea heritage is remembered in a maritime museum.
The post road built by Thomas Telford from London strengthened Holyhead’s position as the port from which the Royal Mail was dispatched to and from Dublin on the Mail coach. The A5 terminates at Admiralty Arch (1822–24), which was designed by Thomas Harrison to commemorate a visit by King George IV in 1821 en route to Ireland and marks the zenith of Irish Mail coach operations.
In 2001, work was completed on the extension of the A55 North Wales Expressway from the Britannia Bridge to Holyhead, giving the town a dual carriageway connection to North Wales and the main British motorway network. The A55 forms part of Euroroute E22 and was funded in the main by money from the European Union. The Anglesey section was financed through a Private Finance Initiative scheme.
With the opening of the railway from London to Liverpool, Holyhead lost the London to Dublin Mail contract in 1839 to the Port of Liverpool. Only after the completion of the Chester and Holyhead Railway in 1850 and the building of Holyhead railway station did the Irish Mail return to Holyhead, operated from London Euston by the London and North Western Railway.
Holyhead is the terminus of the North Wales Coast Line and is currently served by Virgin Trains and Arriva Trains Wales services. Virgin Trains run direct trains to London Euston and Arriva Trains Wales operate direct trains to Chester.
Holyhead’s main industry was aluminium-based until September 2009, with Rio Tinto Group’s Anglesey Aluminium subsidiary operating a massive aluminium smelter on the outskirts of the town, including a plant that refined bauxite. A large jetty in the harbour received ships from Jamaica and Australia, and their cargoes of bauxite and aluminium ores were transported on a cable belt rope driven conveyor belt that runs underneath the town to the plant. The jetty is now used by Anglesey County Council to dock cruise ships visiting from all over the world. The jetty is wide enough for coaches to travel down to collect and deliver passengers to the town and on local tours. The plant relied on its electricity supply from the island’s nuclear power station at Wylfa, near Cemaes Bay. However, Wylfa is reaching the end of its life and only has permission to generate into 2012, and the ending of a low-cost electricity supply contract in 2009 impacted on the financial viability of the smelting plant. Continuing operations involve the remelting of aluminium scrap for re-use. The site is subject to proposals by a development company called Lateral Power.
Holyhead Port is a major employer, most of the jobs being linked to ferry services to the Republic of Ireland operated by Stena and Irish Ferries. Other significant industrial / transport sector employers in Holyhead include Holyhead Boatyard, Gwynedd Shipping, and Eaton Electrical, with the latter having seen many job losses in 2009. New retail developments in recent years have been a major source of new job creation.