American tourist from California, Ron Goubert, climbs down from The Honeycomb at Giants Causeway in Northern Ireland. Source: (Photo by Liam McBurney/PA Images via Getty Images)
Along the coast of Northern Ireland, there is a strange, unreal-looking place that, at first glance, seems like it must be man-made. But the Giant’s Causeway, as it is called, is a totally natural geological feature that was created from volcanic activity in the area 50 to 60 million years ago. The result of the cooled lava is a massive series of hexagon-shaped, interlocking stepping stones that, naturally, formed the basis for local legends. In this case, the Giant’s Causeway is linked to the myths of Finn McCool, perhaps the best named-hero of all the Irish legends.
The Strange Stones are Ruins
According to Irish legends, the odd-looking, hexagon-shaped stones and columns at the Giant’s Causeway are the ruins of an enormous bridge that was constructed by Finn McCool, or Fionn mac Cumhaill. Finn McCool was goaded into a fight with a Scottish giant named Benandonner so he built the causeway over the North Channel so he could reach his foe.
Finn McCool. Source: (youtube.com)
Finn McCool Outwits His Enemy by Dressing Like a Baby
As the legend tells us, Finn McCool was alarmed when he first saw Benandonner. The Scottish giant was much larger and Finn McCool didn’t think he could beat him with brawn. So he tried brains. With the help of his wife, Finn McCool disguised himself as a baby and lay in a cradle. Benandonner came upon the cradle and assumed that the baby was the son of his sworn enemy, Finn McCool. But, Benandonner noted, the infant was enormous. He surmised that Finn McCool must be the largest giant ever. Benandonner ran back across the Giant’s Causeway to Scotland in fear, destroying the bridge behind him so Finn McCool couldn’t fight him. A similar set of hexagon stones is found across the channel on the Scotland side of the water, lending credence to the legends.
Finn McCool Appears in Other Irish Legends
Finn McCool shows up in several other Irish legends and stories, but in most of them, he is not a giant, but a human with some magical abilities that he uses for heroic deeds. He is known for fighting off giants and saving the villages of Ireland from the marauding Scottish giants.
The Giant’s Causeway has a Less Supernatural Origin
Millions of years ago, Northern Ireland was the location of a tremendous amount of volcanic eruptions and seismic activity. Liquid lava flowed across chalk beds to form a thick layer of basalt. When the lava cooled and solidified, it shrank and cracked into hexagon-shapes, in much the same way that mud dries in geographic patterns. The more than 40,000 interlocking hexagon columns weathered over time, with some columns cracking horizontally due to imperfections in the basalt. What is left looks like man-made stairs or stepping stones.
The Giant’s Causeway is a Travel Lover’s Dream
The uniqueness of the Giant’s Causeway has always attracted visitors who come to marvel at the strange stepping stones. The site is free to visit. In recent years, with the rise of Instagram travel celebrities, the place has become a bucket list destination for travel lovers and adventurers. The dark, geographic columns and the magnificent sea combine to create rugged and legendary photo ops.
The Giant’s Causeway is a Protected Site
In 1986, the Giant’s Causeway was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the following year, it was declared a National Nature Reserve by the Department of the Environment for Northern Ireland.