Bardsey Island (Welsh: Ynys Enlli) lies off the Lleyn peninsula, in north Wales. The island is the site of a monastery founded by Saint Cadfan in the sixth century, and of Bardsey Bird and Field Observatory. Its highest point is the summit of Mynydd Enlli.
It supports a small ‘all the year’ round population of fewer than 10 people which is swollen during summer months by visitors staying in other houses on the island. Only one of the original ‘crogloft’ cottages survives as all the other cottages/houses were rebuilt during the 1870’s with substantial detached & semi-detached farmhouses. They all have a set of farm buildings surrounded by high walls to keep out the weather. All the buildings are listed by Cadw – the Welsh Historic & Ancient Monuments organisation. Little has changed on the island since then – the last building to be put up was the chapel in 1875. There is no permanent electricity supply, most houses relying on candles and small gas lamps. A telephone link to the rest of the public network was established in 2001 but the telephone system on the island still uses ‘wind the handle’ telephones with the (permanently occupied) houses all being on the same party line.
The Welsh colloquial term for toilet – tŷ bach (“little house”) still refers to a ‘little house’ at the bottom of the garden on Bardsey.
The Island is owned and managed by the Bardsey Island Trust (see external link below) who acquired it in 1979 after raising the money by public subscription. For many years previously, it had formed part of the estates of the Newborough Family of Glynllifon near Caernarfon. At its maximum, it supported a population of 92 at the time of the 1851 census. By 1935 the population had dropped to 33. As the population dropped, the small school on the island, run by the Council, closed circa 1950.
The island became a place of pilgrimage, especially popular with pilgrims who would come to die and be buried on the isle, hence giving rise to the tradition that twenty thousand saints are buried on the island. Three pilgrimages to Bardsey were rated as equivalent to one pilgrimage to Rome. Saint Deiniol and Saint Dubricius were buried in the old abbey before being translated to Bangor and Llandaff Cathedral respectively. Merlin the Magician is said to still be imprisoned on the island.
Attractions on the island include a thirteenth century bell tower, several Celtic crosses, and a wealth of birds. Bardsey is a National Nature Reserve and a Site of Special Scientific Interest. The tallest square lighthouse in Britain built in 1821.
Bardsey Island Apple
Bardsey is also home to the Bardsey Island Apple, an apple originally unique to the island, although saplings can now be purchased. It was originally described by the media as “The World’s Rarest Apple”. The apple tree is believed to have been grown there since the 1300s, when the Island was inhabited by monks. However, due to the island’s isolated location, it was not officially identified and classified until Ian Sturrock sent a sample to the National Fruit Collection, in Brogdale, Kent in 1998.
Bardsey Isle – From ‘A Topographical Dictionary of Wales’ (1849)
BARDSEY ISLE, a small extra-parochial island in St. George’s Channel, near Cardigan bay, locally in the parish of Aberdaron, in the hundred of Dinllaen, union of Pwllheli, county of Carnarvon, North Wales; lying off the promontory of Lleyn, from which it is separated by Bardsey Race, three miles in breadth; and containing 90 inhabitants. This island, from the remotest known period of antiquity, seems to have been the resort of devotees, who, retiring from the cares of the world, sought an asylum here, in which they passed the remainder of their lives and were buried. St. Dubricius, Archbishop of Caerlleon, resigning his see, retired to this solitary spot, where, dying about the year 522, he was interred; but his remains were removed in the twelfth century to Llandaf. Prior to the time of St. Dubricius, this may have been a retreat of the Culdees, the first religious recluses in Britain, for whose secret worship of the Almighty its remote situation was peculiarly auspicious. Before his death, perhaps before his arrival, a monastery was founded; it was afterwards dedicated to St. Mary, and became very eminent for its sanctity. In the reign of Edward II., according to the Sebright manuscripts, a petition was presented to that monarch by the abbot, complaining of exaction on the part of the sheriff of Carnarvon, which procured redress. The monastery continued to flourish till the Dissolution, when its revenues amounted to £58. 6. 2. There are only some small portions of the abbey remaining: the site was granted by Edward VI. to Sir Thomas Seymour, and afterwards to the Earl of Warwick.The island, now the property of Lord Newborough, is two miles and a half in length, and one and a half in breadth. From the violence of the current which runs through the sound, it obtained the British name Ynys Enlli, or “the island in the current;” and the Saxons, from its being a favourite retreat of the bards, named it Bardsey, or “the island of the bards.” The inhabitants are partly occupied in agriculture, and partly in fishing; the soil is fertile, and large quantities of lobsters and oysters are sent to Liverpool in sailing-vessels every week. The scenery is grand, the sea coming in with the full Atlantic swell. The shores and sand-banks in this part of St. George’s Channel render the navigation exceedingly dangerous, and numerous vessels have been lost: to prevent the recurrence of similar disasters, a lighthouse, with a flashing light, was erected on the island in 1821, and lighted for the first time on the 24th of December in that year. The tower is a substantial and handsome square structure, seventy-four feet high, surmounted by a lantern ten feet high; and, being built on an elevation sixty-two feet above the level of the sea, the light is 146 feet above highwater mark at spring tides. The erection of this lighthouse has been attended with the utmost benefit to the vessels connected with the port of Liverpool.