Eglwys y Bedd, Holyhead

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Link to French translationEglwys y Bedd, Holyhead

The name of this building, close to St Cybi’s Church, translates into English as “Church of the Grave”. The grave was reputedly that of an Irish leader called Sirigi who was killed in Holyhead c.500AD by Welsh leader Caswallon Law Hir – see below for more on this story.

The building we see today was once the nave of a small chapel, probably built in the 14th century. Surviving earlier features include the outline of a 14th-century chancel arch – which you can easily see above the entrance. (The chancel was the area for the clergy behind the altar.) Archaeologists have found evidence of an earlier building here.

In 1748, the Rev Thomas Ellis instigated the rebuilding of Eglwys y Bedd, previously derelict, as Holyhead’s first free school. He made great efforts to help the parish’s poor and urged Margaret Owen of Penrhos to ask her rich relative Edward Wynne, chancellor of Hereford diocese, for funds for the school. Edward paid for the building works and gave £120, the annual interest on which paid for building maintenance and educating “six poor boys of this parish”.

The death of Sirigi (or Serigi) was momentous for the Welsh. Anglesey had been invaded by Irish people after the Romans’ departure from Britain. The Irish dominated the island for generations, and the former Roman fort at Holyhead provided a stronghold for a group led by a “giant” called Sirigi. He was eventually killed by Caswallon Law Hir (Caswallon of the Long Hand), who went on to rule Anglesey. The defeat inspired the Welsh to rout Irish settlers from other areas of Wales.

According to tradition, Sirigi was buried here, on the south side of the Roman fort site, and a shrine was erected at the spot. The chancel of Eglwys y Bedd was cleared in 1810 to improve the entrance to the churchyard, and one version of Sirigi’s story tells that the bones of a large man – assumed to be Sirigi – were found in a stone coffin and later taken to Ireland.

An alternative name for Eglwys y Bedd is Capel Llan y Gwyddel, which means “Chapel of the Irishman’s enclosure”. Today the building functions as a church hall.

Postcode: LL65 1HG     View Location Map