The Giant’s Causeway has long been a popular tourist destination. It first came to the attention of the general public when it was promoted by the Royal Society as one of the wonders of the natural world way back in 1693 and people have been enthralled by this natural wonder ever since. Nowadays, hundreds of thousands of people visit Ireland each year with the express purpose of seeing these strange rock formations.
Made up of around 37,000 black basalt columns, this truly does seem like the stepping stone pathway of some giant – or at least some kind of otherworldly phenomenon. It is the truly strange appearance of these columns that make them so enthralling so see and walk upon. But don’t think that you will be able to contemplate the eerie spectacle in peace – there is usually quite a crowd.
You can, however, escape the worst of the crowds by eschewing the easy ten minute walk or shuttle bus ride from the visitor centre and instead taking the quieter scenic route – a walk of around two miles that goes round behind the visitor centre and leads you round several promontories where you can see the spectacle from above and look at distant views of the Scottish island of Ailsa Craig before descending a flight of 162 steps to sea level. Take the path west from there and you will end up at the Giant’s Causeway.
If you go north though, round the bay, you will reach other fascinating rock formations, for example the Organ Pipes, the Harp and Chimney Point. Chimney point once caused a ship of the Spanish Armada to think that it was Dunluce Castle. The ship was wrecked on the rocks and its treasures were recovered by divers in 1968.
The prosaic explanation for the Giant’s Causeway is that these mostly hexagonal columns were formed when what is now Antrim experienced intense volcanic activity around 50-60 million years ago. Lava burst through chalk beds to form an extensive lava plateau. The lava then cooled, cracking like drying mud, and as it continued to cool the cracks propagated downwards. This left the basalt columns that we see today.
A far more interesting legend says that the causeway was created by the giant Fionn Mac Cumhaill (Finn McCool) because he was challenged to a fight by a renowned Scottish giant called Benandonner. In one version, he fights Benandonner and wins, in another he sees the size of the other giant and flees in terror, destroying the causeway behind him. In one version, Finn McCool’s wife Oonagh hides him in a giant crib and when Benandonner sees the size of Finn McCools ‘baby’ he imagines him to be a giant amongst giants and he himself flees.
One thing is true – the causeway does indeed go to Scotland, where you can see more formations of the same kind which were created by the same lava flow. Basalt columns can be seen in Scotland at the spectacular Fingal’s Cave of the Island of Staffa and at other points nearby on Mull and the Morvern peninsula.
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