"Bardsey and it’s inhabitants"


    Isaac Rowlands

Bardsey or the Welsh Iona as some used to call it, can be found about three miles south west of Braich y Pwll, Aberdaron. Thousands of years ago it was part of the mainland, but the sea eroded the lowland creating the island. At times the tide, torrent and strong winds make the passage or sound, as it is known between the island and the mainland very treacherous, making it impossible to leave the island for weeks on end. Bardsey is two miles long and five miles in circumference and raises to six hundred feet above sea level in the north eastern end.

It is said that the history of the island has never been completely written and the little we know is dispersed among many volumes and to gather and glean it all would be an enormous task, not to say time consuming. However the Welsh name Enlli is a fairly accurate description of this island set among the flow of the tides and torrents between it and Braich y Pwll, the currents are strong and the English name for this is ‘The Bardsey Races’. In earlier times ir was known as ‘Ffrydiau Caswenan’ ( Streams of Caswenan) as a ship belonging to King Arthur according to legend sank here. The ship was called Gwenan and they called the island ‘ Caswenan Isle’ after it, but the name most familiar to us is Enlli.

It’s a beautiful place and many visitors go there in the summer. When they land in the little harbour known as ‘Y Cafn’, the first thing they see are the many boats from the large boat to carry horses, which can carry up to six tons to the small boats used for lobster potting. The storehouse is full of nets, oars, sails, lobsters pots etc.

However the most beautiful thing found on the south western corner of the island is the lighthouse with its magnificent Revolving Light, and Fog horn that are run by two oil engines. It’s well worth going up the lighthouse to see the lamp, but it is so powerful that glasses are needed. ( Visitors are no longer allowed up the tower, since the Suffragettes tried to set fire to the Eddystone Lighthouse.)


There are three houses belonging to the lighthouse where the lighthouse keepers live, they are all English and they are work alternate shifts. The lighthouse has been a blessing for ships at night and the poet Ieuan Lleyn wrote about it.

There area a dozen houses on  the island apart from the three owned by the lighthouse, and most of them are farmhouses. There’s one main road that leads from the Cafn to the further house on the island. On the right as we come up from the harbour we find Ty Pella where Love Pritchard the King lives, then Rhedynog Goch, the two Cristins, just before we arrive at Cristin there’s an old chapel where the school is held, then Plas Bach, Carreg Fawr, Ty bach, Hendy and Nant on the left and on the right the Mission House where the preacher lives and the Chapel. At the northern end is the Abbey, angular walls with three windows, built of gritstone. It is said that holes that are seen on the wall are that of the ‘bullets’ from the Man o War.

Close by is an old chapel with a bell tower, where they used to worship and a cemetery, that by now is a little unkempt, but there are three monuments, one of which is in the grave of Lord Newborough, the other two commemorate the old Saints upon which is carved this verse:

‘Safe in this Island

Where each saint would be,

How wilt thou smile

On life’s stormy sea.’

It is said that the island is full of graves as twenty thousand saints are buried here according to history! Remains of graves can be seen all over the island. Today there’s a cellar across the road opposite the gate to Ty Nesa’s yard, it goes to the garden and under the cowshed and is full of graves.

Bardsey has been a very Christian place, as many saints lived there from time to time. After the might of the Romans came to an end around the end of the fourth or beginning of the fifth century, hordes of pirates descended this country and the Christians of the land were tortured daily by the ‘Angles and Saxons’ on the one hand and by the Picts on the other. They murdered the religious teachers and burnt their churches and under these tortuous conditions many of the most Godly amongst them fled to more inaccessible places and some came to Bardsey where they founded a Holy Community, leading a life of prayer. When the monks of Bangor on Dee were killed, the population of Bardsey grew and amongst those that came here was the Archbishop of England and many good men followed him and thus Bardsey became known as one of the holiest places. One of the early welsh bards described the place as ‘Heaven on Earth’ and ‘The Gateway to Heaven’. So as we can see Bardsey has been over the ages a very holy place.

Many wells can be found on the island and according to legend the Saints used to use them ‘Ffynnon Barfau’ ( Well of Beards) where the Saints would shave their beards,and Ffynnon y dwr oer’ ( Well of cold water) that they would drink from.

Now we come to the schooling the children of the island get. School takes place for two hours in the afternoon under the guidance of the preacher, they are allowed to carry on as if they were at home and everyone helps each other out with everything, it has a very homely feel to it.

Most of the inhabitants are farmers or fishermen and they carry out their business with the folk of Aberdaron. When the weather is fair they come over twice a week taking The Mail Bag and all other goods they need back with them. In winter it is a different story and they can be stuck for weeks on end and food becomes scarce. It is said that they will soon all be leaving the island for good, which will be a shame for many good things will be lost by it. Many things are in abundance on Bardsey such as watercress, camomile and wormwood. There are no motors, bikes, milk carts, trams or trains to bother the walker. No flash lights to brighten the darkness when coming from prayer meeting, no tramps to be found lying around the hedgerows, just a calm peaceful place where everyone lives in safety.


An essay by Isaac Rowlands 1913.



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