Stand tall in the Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland

The Giant's Causeway

Regularly lauded as the unofficial ‘eighth wonder of the world’ and as Northern Ireland’s only UNESCO world heritage site, it’s with much confidence I can claim the Giant’s Causeway as one of the must-see tourist sites in Europe. Resulting from an ancient eruption, plentiful natural beauty is what to expect when visiting the nature reserve. It is in incidences such as the Giant’s Causeway, one is completely struck by the pure genius of natural design – the fact that the area is comprised of over 40,000 interlocking basalt columns, most of which fit a perfectly hexagonal shape is mind-boggling. This is all the more striking when considering that the tops of the columns gradually decrease in size, as so the top of the cliff descends into the shore and creates a stairway effect. The tallest of these columns impressively reach almost 40ft, which makes evident why the area is so called the Giant’s Causeway.

Arguments about religion aside, the sheer magnificence Giant’s Causeway does ignite thoughts of being created by a master architect – whether this is simply our planet itself or a god of some sort.

The scientific answer to the question begins 50-60 million years ago, during the Paleogene period. As a result of intense volcanic activity, highly fluid molten basalt formed an extensive lava plateau. The formation of the columns however is due to the unusual manner in which this lave cooled. A processed called contraction took places as the lava cooled rapidly and it was during the ‘horizontal’ contraction that cracks formed – those of which propagated down the sheets of lava and created the individual pillars we see today. The differing sizes of the pillars are remarkably only a result of the lava cooling at differing rates. There are of course more detailed accounts of the formation of the Giant’s Causeway readily available at the information centre at the site and there will be people with in depth expertise on the matter happy to assist you.

To contrast with the natural history of the area, it is interesting to indulge in the endearing local folklore concerning the Giant’s Causeway. Legend dictates that the columns are the vestige of a great walkway created by ancient giants. More specifically, the story states that an Irish giant, Fionn mac Cumhaill (Finn MacCool) was challenged to a duel by a rival Scottish giant named Benandonner. Fionn obliged and built the causeway across the North Channel so that the two giants could engage in combat.

There are in fact two differing accounts of how the story finished. One ending sees Fionn simply defeating Benandonner, another, and undoubtedly more entertaining includes a few more twists to the tale. In the second ending, Fionn hides from Benandonner upon seeing that his foe is much bigger than him. It is then that Fionn’s wife, Una (somehow) disguises him as a baby and tucks him into a cradle. When Benandonner sees what a sizeable baby Fionn is, he thinks that his father (whom he presumes to be the actual Fionn) must be especially large – causing him to then flee back to Scotland and destroying the causeway in the process. Although this is merely whimsy, it is stories like these that add to the enjoyment of visiting the Giant’s Causeway – they are both entertaining pieces of supplementary knowledge and amusing accounts of what people used to actually believe.

The Giant’s Causeway had received unbounded attention from the moment of its discovery, much like other cultural heritage sites (for instance Machu Picchu and Milford Sound). The discovery in this case can be traced back to 1693 when a paper was presented by Sir Richard Bulkeley (a fellow of Dublin’s renowned Trinity College) to the Royal Society regarding the site. However the catalyst to international fame came with the publication of the watercolours painted of the Dublin artist Susanna Drury in 1739.

An engraving of one of Susanna Drury's watercolour paintings.

An engraving of one of Susanna Drury’s watercolour paintings.

These artworks depicted the undulating shapes and unearthly formation of the causeway’s pillars and for such an analytical and realistic painting almost bore a subject matter that appeared to be wholly fictitious.

The talents of Drury awarded her with the ‘first award’ from the Royal Dublin Society, am accolade that prompted her work to engraved and prepared for mass release in 1743 (even reaching the pages of the French ‘Encyclopedie’ in 1765).

Of course, the building of the Giant’s Causeway Tramway in the nineteenth century fuelled the interest in the site, transforming the area into Northern Ireland’s primary point of interest.

The Giant's Foot

The Giant’s Causeway is not only ideal for those with an interest in photography but for anyone with an interest in the picturesque. You will be hard pressed to find a moment of disinterest when navigating through the ocean of basalt columns.

The otherworldly beauty of the area is one that is punctuated by a series of stunning vistas and vignettes of breath-taking geological formations. Simply, every time you turn your head, you’ll find somewhere that is remarkable and inspirational.

For instance, some of the natural structures in the area amusingly resemble man-made objects and so have adopted rather colloquial nicknames. The organ and the giant’s boot are particularly noteworthy for those whom enjoy the wonders of nature and how it has effected its environment.

A reproduction of the Giant's Causeway Holiday Cottages as they were in the 1950's.

A reproduction of the Giant’s Causeway Holiday Cottages as they were in the 1950’s.

To facilitate a visit to the Giant’s Causeway, there are many ‘Giant’s Causeway Holiday Cottages a mere 0.5 km away from the site. These cottages offer self-catered accommodation and regardless of their excellent features and furnishings, are ideal as a place to stay (some of the cottages are so comfortable you almost have a hard time leaving the front door). This isn’t just because of the close proximity to the mystical Giant’s Causeway but because of the utterly stunning views that are available from the cottages’ themselves. Truly, to be able to stay in the cottages is a triumph in itself not to mention, the resulting fact that you will be able to spend more time exploring the fantastical causeway.

In short, for an example geological splendour and how nature often adopts a form that seems totally unnatural – I recommend a visit to the Giant’s Causeway.

Engaging with the breadth of amazing formations and climbing the columns will re-awaken a sense of child-like wonderment – a wonderment that is sure to extend to the area’s interesting back-story and folklore.