Legend has it that long ago when Goliaths roamed what is now known as the British Isles, they battled each other fiercely to expand their personal kingdoms. Irish giant Finn MacCool was challenged to a fight by the Scottish giant Benandonner. Finn accepted the challenge and built a land bridge, a Giant’s Causeway, across the North Channel from Ireland to Scotland to attack Benandonner.
Upon completion, Finn headed across the Giant’s Causeway but when he caught sight of Benandonner he realized his foe was a much larger giant so he hid while he rethought his strategy. Finn’s wife, Úna, cleverly dressed him as a baby and laid him in a cradle at the Irish end of the Giant’s Causeway. When Benandonner advanced and saw the huge “baby,” he assumed the baby’s father, Finn, was a giant among giants and promptly ran back to Scotland in fear, destroying the Giant’s Causeway behind him so Finn couldn’t follow.
Scientists tell us that the Giant’s Causeway actually resulted from a volcanic eruption some 50-60 million years ago, leaving in its wake a dramatic collection of about 40,000 interlocking basalt columns. The rapid cooling of lava fractured the rock into hexagonal pillars, some as tall as 39 feet. Located about three miles from the town of Bushmills on the northeast coast of Northern Ireland, they extend from the foot of a seaside cliff down into and beneath the water. There are, in fact, identical formations across the North Channel at Fingal’s Cave on the Scottish isle of Staffa formed from the same lava flow, but I rather like the legend of the giants. You can choose which story you want to believe.
Some of the rock groupings lend themselves to the legend; one looks like a massive organ, another resembles a giant’s boot, still others look like chimney tops. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1986 – Northern Ireland’s only one – and is managed by the National Trust. A new state-of-the-art Visitor’s Center with glass walls and a grass roof and 360° views of the captivating coast was opened in 2012. Visitors can scamper over thousands of six-sided steps and walk four color-coded trails with stunning views of the wild waves and jagged cliffs.
If you’d like to immerse yourself in the lore of Northern Ireland, ask Covington’s vacation advisors to include a visit the Giant’s Causeway to your next trip.