Holyhead Mountain rises beyond the cliffs of South Stack. At a mere 722 feet, it is only a small mountain, but then, Holy Island is a very small island of just over fifteen square miles. Yet there would be enough archaeology here to keep us occupied for far more than a single short weekend…without even considering the fabulous sites on the Isle if Anglesey itself. Had there been time, I would have liked to climb the quartzite mountain to see the ancient hillfort that crowns it, now surmounted by a Roman watchtower. Or visit the ten-feet tall standing stones of Penrhosfeilw. But time is limited and we had some wonderful sites to see, starting with an entire prehistoric village just yards away from the cliffs. I was hardly going to be complaining!
Ty Mawr, also known as Cytiau’r Gwyddelod, ‘The Irishmen’s Huts’, is a settlement that dates back a very long time. The name probably only goes back to historical times, around fifteen hundred years ago, when Cadwallon Lawhir finally drove the Irish pirates from the island. But the history of the site is longer than that. There is evidence of farming at the site five and a half thousand years ago. Grains such as wheat, oats and barley have been found, along with food gathered from the sea and charcoal of heather and sedge. About two and a half thousand years ago, the farmers built the settlement we see today. There are around fifty hut circles and rectangular structures built in the local stone. Once they would have worn conical thatched roofs, far more sophisticated that you might at first think, as we had discovered at Castell Henllys in the summer.
All that remains now are the lower walls, and twenty or so of the structures have been restored and consolidated. The rectangular structures may have been stores or pens for the animals; their purpose is not really known. The hut circles are around 22 feet across with thick walls, built to withstand the weather high on this mountainside above the sea. There are hearths for the fire which would always be burning. Stone recesses and benches are built into the walls and a curious stone basin in one of the huts. More than anything else, this small basin brought home that fact that, once upon a time, these were homes.
When that thought settles in, you begin to see the place differently. There is an echo of laughter as children play hide and seek in the sunshine, creeping in between the shielding outer walls to hide amongst the dry wood and heather for the fire. There is the hiss of steam as hot stones are dropped in water to heat the steeping herbs. Goats wander, sure-footed on the slopes and grandmother grinds the grain for bread. A forgotten life comes to life in the imagination, casting shadowy ghosts on the sunlit grass.
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