Giant Causeway in Ireland – Facts and Legend

by admin on June 1, 2014

Giant Causeway in Ireland – Facts and Legend

 

The Giant’s Causeway is made up of 40,000 basalt columns in a formation jutting out of a small piece of coastline on the north coast of Ireland in County Antrim. It is thought they were formed around 60 million years ago. Today County Antrim is made up of some rugged countryside but it is mostly serene farmland. Fifty to sixty million years ago it was a hotbed of volcanic activity. This volcanic activity meant the area was part of the Thulean Province, a huge basalt lava plain. At the Giant’s Causeway, this molten basalt lava started to cool rapidly. This caused the basalt to contract and fracture, much the same way mud does when it dries. The cooling process left behind pillar-like objects which remain largely intact to this day.

giant causeway

 

giant causeway

 

giant causeway ireland

 

giant causeway ireland

 

giant causeway ireland

 

giant causeway

That is the proper and widely accepted scientific explanation of how the Giant’s Causeway was formed. However, this is Ireland (more specifically it is Northern Ireland) so the story does not end there. First, there is the Irish folklore, the story of how the rock formations were formed handed down through the generations. Secondly, there is the religious explanation, which is important to note as there is a very significant proportion of the population living in the area around the Giant’s Causeway who dismiss the scientific explanation.

For a full understanding it is important to understand these stories and viewpoints, which are outlined below.

Irish Legend

The Irish are famous for their story telling, and there is no better Irish story than how the Giant’s Causeway was created. In the story, an Irish warrior giant, Finn McCool, was goaded by Scottish giant Benandonner. Benandonner was ridiculing Finn McCool by shouting insults at him across the Irish Sea. Finn McCool was incensed by the ridiculing and challenged Benandonner, but the Scottish giant replied that he could not swim. Unable to fight for his honor, Finn McCool was further infuriated. In his anger he started tearing up chunks of the Irish Coastline and throwing them into the sea to make a bridge – or causeway – between Ireland and Scotland. Now there was a way for Benandonner to get across.

Finn McCool’s exertions building the bridge had made him tired and therefore nervous of taking on the bigger Scottish giant. His wife, Oonagh, had the idea to disguise Finn McCool as a baby. When Benandonner arrived, Oonagh told him Finn McCool was out cutting wood and invited him in to wait. She served him tea and “cake”, which had been replaced with stones. Benandonner broke his teeth eating the fake cake. This started to make him nervous about his adversary as Benandonner thought Finn McCool must be bigger and stronger than him if he could easily eat the same “cakes” that had just cracked Benandonner’s teeth.

Oonagh then played her masterstroke. She introduced Benandonner to Finn McCool’s “son”. Of course, it was really Finn McCool himself lying in the crib. When Benandonner saw the size of the “baby” in the crib his fears of Finn McCool’s enormity were confirmed and he took flight, racing back across the causeway to Scotland. As he went, he ripped up the stone bridge so Finn McCool could not follow him.

All that remained of the causeway once Benandonner had escaped was the section just outside of Finn McCool’s cave – the site of today’s Giant’s Causeway.

History

The Giant’s Causeway first came to the attention of the world in 1693, when Sir Richard Bulkeley, a baronet and Irish politician, wrote a paper about it to the Royal Society. From then, its popularity has grown.

We know that others had visited or encountered the stones before 1693. A year before, the Bishop of Derry visited. And in 1588 a Spanish Armada met tragedy on the rocks. It had been sent to attack England by King Philip of Spain, however the English navy was too strong. The Spanish ships beat a retreat via Ireland, sailing along the north coast. One ship, the Girona, hit rocks with 1,300 men on board. Only five survived. Four hundred years later, in 1967, the Girona’s wreck was found on the sea bed.

One of the first known images of the Giant’s Causeway is by 18th century Irish painter Susanna Drury. She painted watercolor paintings of the rocks in 1739 which were in turn created into what are now famous engravings in 1743.

The first explosion in visitors came about with the launching of the Giant’s Causeway Tramway. It opened in 1883 and ran for 65 years. It was the world’s first hydro-electric tram system, built using ground-breaking technology created by Siemens. The tramway ran until 1949.

Throughout the Northern Irish Troubles, the Giant’s Causeway continued to be popular, often acting as a respite for the violence that was going on elsewhere in the country. During and after this period, however, controversy raged about how best to capitalize on the natural gift bestowed on Northern Ireland. It had a lot to do with politics and money, but it was a very localized argument and never stopped the visitors coming (although previous sub-standard facilities might have lessened the quality of their experience).

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