The Giants Causeway Ireland • Mingling Myth With Geology

The Legend

There are many stories in Irish Mythology of adventures, grudges, voyages, battles and gods and a key character in many of the early tales is the mythical Irish hero Fionn MacCool and his warriors of the Fianna. These were forest-dwelling warriors often referred to in myths dating back to the 3rd Century AD as the soldiers of destiny. Fionn Macumhaill (Finn McCool) was a chieftain in medieval Ireland. With his adventures documented in the Fenian Tales, said to have been recorded as poems by Finn McCool’s son, Oisín, and told and retold by the Irish people for centuries.

The legend says Finn McCool was a giant of a man and across the waters in Scotland was another giant named Benandonner, also known as the Red Man. Finn McCool and the Red Man exchanged insults from a distance and eventually Mac challenged this Scottish giant to a fight.

According to Irish legend, the Red man accepted the challenge and these two giants began building a causeway across the sea so they could fight. In one version of the story, Finn defeats Benandonner but in another, McCool hides from Benandonner after he realizes that the Red Man is much bigger than he is. To save him Finn’s wife, Oonagh, disguises him as a baby and tucks him into a giant cradle. When Benandonner sees the size of the “baby” he realizes that its father, Finn, must be a giant among giants. He flees back to Scotland in fright, destroying the causeway. Remnants of the causeway are found today at Fingal’s Cave on the Scottish isle of Staffa and The Giants Causeway in Northern Ireland adding confirmation to the legend.

The Giants Causeway – Up on the rugged coast of Northern Ireland about two hours north of Belfast is a geological wonder and a World Heritage Site named The Giants Causeway. The unusual formation was born of natural processes 65 million years ago, when Northern Ireland was subjected to major volcanic activity. During this period, molten basalt came into contact with chalk beds, forming a lava plateau. In this circumstance, the lava cracks and fractures. Cracks opening along the cooling surface get propagated downward, resulting in the long, well-defined columns known as columnar basalt. Some believe water like rain, lakes, or oceans play a role in the cooling and fracturing process. At The Giants Causeway the lava cooled, the plateau contracted and cracked, forming about 40,000 similar sized hexagonal columns of varying heights that look like giant stepping stones. The largest pilers stand over 35 feet tall.

The Giants Causeway and the other end of the formation in Scotland aren’t the only places you’ll find these unusual basalt columns around the world. They include;

Hexagon pool, Golan, Israel
  • The Cliff of Stone Plates – Ghenh Da Dia in Vietnam
  • Prismas Basalticos in Huasca de Ocampo, Hidalgo, Mexico
  • Akun island columnar basalt, Alaska
  • The Gangolfsberg, Rhön, Bavaria, Germany
  • Froðba, Faroe Islands
  • Columnar Basalt in High Island Reservoir, Hong Kong
  • The Devil’s Postpile in California
  • Symphony of Stones at Garni Gorge, Armenia
  • Hexagon pool, Golan, Israel

The site of the Giants Causeway is spectacular and includes a good visitors center, a well paved road down to the Causeway, a shuttle bus and a number of food and refreshment venues around the site that include the Causeway Inn with a cozy bar.

The ruins of Dunluce Castle, where a number of Game of Thrones episodes were filmed, are also not far from The Giants Causeway site.

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