The Giant's Causeway

Giants Causeway - a bridge for Giants

In County Antrim, Northern Ireland, a bridge disappears into the sea only a short distance from the shore. Thousands of tourists flock to the area to walk across the remains. A bridge that serves no visible purpose might be an odd tourist attraction, but this is no ordinary bridge. This is a bridge built by giants.

Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1986, the Giant's Causeway is the most popular tourist attraction in Ireland, and it is easy to see why. Tall cliffs tower over the blue waters of the sea, and a road of stones rises and stretches toward the horizon before falling into the waves. Not only is the site spectacularly beautiful, it is a prime example of the geologic evolution of the world. The Causeway was created sixty million years ago during a time of intense volcanic eruptions. Molten rock forced its way through fissures in the chalk beds of the region, forming a lava plateau. As the lava cooled it contracted and cracked, creating thousands of hexagonal columns. Some 38,000 columns are visible today, the tallest measuring 36 feet high. The uniform shape of the columns resembles paving stones, and the arrangement of the columns suggests a bridge. It is no wonder that the Causeway has spawned legends of giants.

According to these legends, a giant named Finn MacCool lived on the north coast of Ireland. The territory was his, as there were no giants in the land who could rival his size and strength. But across the sea of Moyle in Scotland lived Benandonner, a giant with a reputation as great as Finn's own. So Finn invited Benandonner to Ireland for a battle. Since no boat could hold a giant's weight, Finn built a bridge of stones across the water. But as Benandonner crossed the bridge, Finn realized his mistake. The Scottish giant was larger and more fierce than Finn had imagined. Finn ran back across the bridge and, with the help of his wife Oonagh, disguised himself as a baby. He wore a large nightgown and bonnet, and he lay in a cradle feigning sleep. As Benandonner approached, Oonagh asked him to keep quiet so the baby could sleep. When Benandonner saw the disguised Finn, his courage and bravado left him. He reasoned that if the child were that large, the father must be larger still. The Scottish giant fled back to his homeland, destroying the Causeway in his wake in case Finn was close behind. This is why the Giant's Causeway starts in Northern Ireland and ends in the island of Staffa in Scotland, with nothing but open water in between.

Beyond the Giant's Causeway itself, ancient volcanic activity shaped many other structures in the area. The Giant's Organ and Chimney tower over visitors, and the Giant's Boot rests on the ground within view of the sea. The legend of Finn MacCool provided the names of these structures, but the minds of visitors need no encouragement to imagine a large pipe organ embedded into a cliff face, or a huge boot forgotten in the haste of a quick retreat. The area is also known as a haven for seabirds. Avid bird watchers can spot razorbill, petrel, and cormorant in the skies, and wagtails and rock pippits on the shore.

Every tourist is searching for a place that will bring magic and a sense of wonder back into their lives. What better place is there than the Giant's Causeway? Whether you choose to see the attraction as a geological formation or the handiwork of a giant, the effect is the same. You will be left believing that the world is more spectacular and more strange than you had ever imagined.

author: Amy White

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