PHOTO: Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland

Basalt columns on the Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland

On the northeast tip of the island of Ireland lies a geologic formation so unique, so astonishing, that legends were created to explain its existence. The Giant’s Causeway, as it is known, was formed when a volcanic eruption was covered with newer layers of lava, placing the underlying material under extreme pressure. The trapped Basaltic rock, forced to cool slowly over eons, formed naturally into crystalline columns. Though most are hexagonal (having six faces or facets), some have five, seven, or even eight sides.

Today we understand the geologic process that formed these Basaltic columns, but those who first laid eyes on the site in the late 17th century had no understanding of crystalline structures or volcanism. To them, the columns marching into the sea looked like fragments of an ancient roadway, built by a mythical giant named Finn MacCool. Finn was said to be fifty-two feet, six inches tall – a relatively small giant of the time. His rival, Benandonner, lived across the sea in Scotland. They yelled across to one another, each vaunting his own strength and issuing demands for a contest. Finn MacCool, being a hospitable giant, offered to build a causeway between Northern Ireland and Scotland so that the two could meet and settle, once and for all, who was the stronger.

One day, shortly after Finn had completed the causeway, his wife heard thunderous footsteps approaching and went in search of Finn. She found him asleep on the causeway, exhausted from his efforts. In the distance, a towering giant approached, many times the size of Finn. Knowing that her husband could not hope to win a battle against this behemoth, she quickly covered the sleeping Finn with her bonnet and nightgown. Benandonner was terrified when he looked down upon the sleeping “infant.” If the child was this big, the father must be enormous. He hastily retreated, tearing up the Giant’s Causeway in his wake.

Author’s note: This was just one of many spectacular sights seen during my luxury day tour of Northern Ireland’s Coastal Causeway with Glenara Elite Travel. And many thanks to Mark Rodgers of¬†Dalriada Kingdom Tours, my private guide at Giant’s Causeway, who provided in-depth knowledge about the history, geology, and legends of this remarkable natural formation.

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