Maritime History in Anglesey

The Maritime History of Holyhead and Anglesey, North Wales.

Holyhead Harbour in the 1830’s – The scene from St Cybi’s Churchyard

By 1820, steam ships had replaced the sailing ships operating between Holyhead and Ireland. To tell the full story of the maritime history of Holyhead, which relied almost entirely on trade with Ireland, it is also necessary for us to include as equally important those ports of Ireland into which the ships sailed. There was Kingstown (later renamed Dun Laoghaire), North Wall in Dublin, and Greenore on the Carlingford Lough.

Kingstown Harbour

There are also the stories of two companies that competed for the prestigious and rewarding Irish Mail contract; the LNWR (London and North Western Railways), and the CofDSPCo (City of Dublin Steam Pack Company). This rivalry for the mail contract would span 7 decades, during which time ships of both companies would be lost by accident, and by acts of war, resulting in heavy loss of life.

By 1882 there were seven sailings a day out of Holyhead to Ireland – 2 ships carrying mail, 2 passenger express ships, 2 cargo ships, and 1 ship on the Greenore service. There were of course the corresponding amount of ships inbound per day.

Anglesey, Holyhead, Railway Hotel and Landing Stage

During World War One (WWI) four of Holyhead’s ships were sunk, three by enemy action and one in a collision. See the links on the right hand column to read the story of the Tara (Hibernia), Anglia, Leinster and Connemara. During World War Two (WWII) the Scotia was sunk rescuing soldiers from the beaches in Dunkirk – read her story here too. Each of these ships were crewed by Holyhead men and women, with devastating effects on the morale of the people of the town.

One of the main problems associated with the ships steam engines was the short life of their boilers before they had to be replaced, sometimes only 5/6 years. Replacing the boilers was an expensive and time consuming necessity, partially eradicated when it was decided to open workshops in Holyhead to make their own.  This replacement became unnecessary after 1888, due to improved design and materials.

SS Curraghmore – Holyhead 1919-1930. Later renamed the Duke of Abercorn

Holyhead’s history of shipping links with Ireland goes back hundreds of years, and a great many people have – and continue – to travel to Ireland via this the shortest ferry sailing route. On Newry Beach, in the old lifeboat station you will find the wonderful Holyhead Maritime Museum. A visit is an absolute must. All of its part time volunteers have extensive maritime and local knowledge that they are happy to share with any visitor.

The Maritime Museum in Holyhead

The Shipwreck of the Primrose Hill

In November 2005 I took a walk through Maeshyfryd cemetery in Holyhead, and I stopped to look at the memorial to the HMS Thetis. I turned to walk away and I noticed a striking gravestone with a large angel atop. Closer inspection showed it to be the

The Sinking of the H.M.H.S. Anglia

The SS Anglia was built by Wm Denny & Brothers of Dumbarton, Scotland. It was built on behalf of the London & North Western Railway, who operated the cross channel Irish services, and she arrived in Holyhead on the 2nd of May1900. She grossed 1862 tons, and

The Sinking of the R.M.S. Leinster

On the 10th of October 1918, at a little before nine o’clock in the morning, the City of Dublin Steam Packet Company-owned mailboat – the R.M.S. Leinster – left Kingstown (now Dun Laoghaire) en route for Holyhead. Three members of the Royal Navy manned 12-pound guns on

The Sinking of the H.M.S. Tara

The S.S. Hibernia was built by Denny Brothers of Dumbarton on behalf of the London & North Western Railway Company. Launched on the 22nd of December 1899, she was put into service on the 12th January 1900 as an express passenger steamer on the Irish Sea passage

The City of Dublin Steam Packet Company

The City of Dublin Steam Packet Company (CofDSPCo) was formed in Dublin in 1822, and was originally called Charles Wye Williams and Company. On the 24th January 1839 they were contracted to run a night mail service from Holyhead to Ireland carrying the Royal Mail on behalf