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What is the Giant’s Causeway?

Giant's Causeway, Co. Antrim. Picture: Tourism Ireland
Giant’s Causeway, Co. Antrim. Picture: Tourism Ireland

News of this extraordinary discovery spread throughout Britain. An amazing natural phenomenon in Northern Ireland had been found and there was much argument as to who or what created it. Did men with picks and chisels build it or perhaps a giant?

What is it?

This natural phenomenon is known as the Giant’s Causeway and was ‘discovered’ in 1693. Located in County Antrim on the northern tip of Northern Ireland, the Giant’s Causeway looks like oversize interconnecting stubby pencils with giant stepping-stones leading into the ocean.

About 40 000 basalt columns form the causeway. Most of them are hexagonal in shape with the tallest measuring about 12m high.

The Giant’s Causeway is also known as Clochan an Aifir or Clochan na bhFomhorach in Irish.

Nature or Giant?

It is hard to believe that when these rock formations were discovered, people wondered whether early man, nature or a giant created them. It wasn’t until 1771 that a geologist called Nicolas Demarest announced to the world that the stones were in fact the result of volcano eruption.

Nature

It is believed that around 60 million years ago, County Antrim was a region of intense volcanic activity. Molten lava was forced up through cracks in the ground to form a huge lava plateau. As the lava cooled, cracks appeared similar to the way that mud dries, and formed columns. The size of the columns was determined by the speed of the lava cooling. The slower it cooled, the larger the column.

Did you know….

The Giant’s Causeway is a UNESCO World Heritage Site

It is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Northern Ireland

Has over 500 000 visitors each year

Who was Finn McCool?

Legend has it that Finn McCool was a giant living in Ireland. His neighbour, the giant Benandonner from across the ocean in Scotland, challenged him to a fight. Finn took chunks of the Irish coastline and threw them into the ocean forming a path to Scotland. But once Finn saw how big Benandonner was he raced back home to his wife Oonagh, who disguised him as a baby. When the angry Benandonner saw the size of this baby, he thought that the father Finn would be huge. He raced back to Scotland in fright destroying the stepping-stones behind him.

There are many unusual structures in the area created from millions of years of erosion. The Giant’s Boot is a rock shaped like a boot. Legend says that Benandonner dropped it as he fled back to Scotland. The Wishing Chair is a natural throne formed from a set of columns. People believed that the chair belonged to Finn when he was a child.

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