The place name Barry Island is believed to be derived from Baruc’s Island, and refers to Saint Baruc’s tragic story.
Saint Baruc was a 6th century Celtic saint and disciple of Saint Cadoc who founded a monastery at Llancarfan, about 7 miles away. The remains of a chapel dedicated to him on Barry Island is estimated to have been built at the beginning of the 8th century. It is thought that the building survived, with alterations, until the 17th century when it was buried by sand. Then in 1894 and 1895 excavation work on the Island not only uncovered the remains of the church, but also a holy well and mass grave. Why would several thousand bodies have been buried here when the island never contained more than two inhabited houses? Saint Baruc’s church was a place of pilgrimage and as a holy island, bodies were brought here for internment.
Listen to the full story below or even better, if you can visit in person why not follow the guided walk in the recording?
Saint Baruc’s story ignites the imagination and there are many re-tellings of the story, variations of detail and emphasis. Another beautiful interpretation is this animation, which is full of empathy for Saint Baruc’s predicament.
The story has also been interpreted from St Cadoc’s point of view, as in the poem below by Anna Lewis.
I saw Barruc turned over and over
against the smart sand, his clothes cut
by the rocks to strips, limbs and head
daubed with watery blood.
We buried him at the top of the cliff,
out of the sharpest edge of the wind.
The waves didn’t calm at all,
but fought and threw each other down;
his broken boat swung out beyond the rocks,
the sun began to drop, and I grew hungry.
I bent beneath the salted trees,
sent men once more along the beach.
When they returned, they brought
a salmon longer than my arm,
its trunk thicker than mine;
it lay before me, beyond hope,
and shrugged from side to side.
I put my knife beneath its throat,
slit and folded back the white leaves
of its belly – and there, among dry
and empty entrails – my book:
the book Barruc had lost on Echni,
the book I’d sent him to retrieve.
Its pages clean, the covers smooth.
The tide by then was drawing out,
stars hardened in the west,
and beneath the cliff we built a fire
to grill that fish. I still can taste
the smoke, the salt, the undernote of ink,
glory written through its flesh. Anna Lewis
Barry has a busy programme of annual events ranging from open-air cinema, triathlons, Gwyl Fach y Fro and artist-led events.