From the warm, dry confines of an office it’s hard to imagine spending twelve hour shifts blasting rock from a mountain. The noise, the flying shards of rock, the cold and the long hours must have made tough men. Seven million tonnes of rock were blasted from Holyhead mountain to make the town’s breakwater. Around 300,000 tonnes of debris were used to make a beach. Many men lost their lives, but in 1876 when the breakwater was complete, 3,500 vessels a year used the harbour.
Many men lost their lives and whole communities sprang up to provide the workforce. A quarryman or labourer or waggon-filler would receive 2s 4d to 2s 8d a day in wages. It was hard, dangerous graft. The project cost £1.3m and transformed Holyhead forever. In recent times these shores have been transformed into the Breakwater Country Park. There is wildlife, a tea shop and great walks. You can climb towards the mountain or North Stack and stare down at the quarries. You can inspect the magazines where they kept the gunpowder.
Holyhead is quieter these days. There is still freight and plenty of passengers and cars heading across for the hills of Wicklow or shops of Dublin, but cheap flights have hit this port hard. Still, it is a vital part of our history to see how villages like Llaingoch came to be and to remind ourselves of the sacrifice others made and how fortunate we are not to follow them.