Once upon time, many, many years ago, two giants from opposite sides of the North Channel planned to have a duel. Finn MacCool, from the Irish side of the channel, built a long causeway across the water so that the two would be able to meet. Benandonner, Scottish and the larger of the two, crossed the causeway and found MacCool’s wife cradling a huge baby. Seeing how big the baby was and reasoning that MacCool, as the father of the huge baby, must be even bigger, he turned back and tore across the causeway, ripping it up as he went so that MacCool wouldn’t be able to come after him. Little did he know that the “baby” was MacCool himself- upon seeing Benandonner’s size and realizing he did not have a chance, MacCool hid himself in a baby’s cradle, his hiding spot corroborated by his quick thinking wife.
This is the story a tour guide told me when I asked about how the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland came to be, and it is just one of many versions of the famous folk tale.
The true story is far less mystical but still nearly as interesting. About 60 million years ago, lava spewed through cracks in the earth surface and hardened once it touched the air. These chunks of basalt became columns a few hundred thousand years later, as cracks traveled through the cooling rock in a deep, even manner. The whole scene was revealed incredibly slowly, thanks to millions of years of erosion and changing sea levels.
While studying abroad in Ireland, my school organized this trip for us and as a result we didn’t actually get to spend as much time at the Giant’s Causeway as I would have liked. We did not get to see the Giant’s Boot, which we’d been told not to miss, and we had to leave abruptly when our bus was ready, even though it was the first time all day that the sun was out. Further, this trip happened just before the grand new visitor’s center opened. The way I see it, this just means I’ll have to go back someday! And with all of that being said, it was still one of my favorite places that I visited during my time abroad.
We took a pleasant but long walk from a large parking lot along the water to reach the main part of the causeway, and there were stunning views at every bend. Once there, it seemed like I wanted to step on every column, climb every boulder, search every nook and cranny of this natural jungle gym.
The rocks were incredibly slippery, so we stepped with extreme caution as we explored. Some columns stretched toward the sky so earnestly that climbing them set you head, shoulders, and even more above people on the ground. In other areas, the columns don’t seem to be rising at all. Instead they just poked their multi-sided heads out from the earth and created uneven stepping stones down to the water.
There were many spots where the formations made a grandstand of sorts, like the bleachers at sports arenas that allow people unobstructed views of the action. Instead of seeing baseball or rugby, the sport here was climbing and photo-taking! It was actually quite a lovely spot to relax after doing so much walking and climbing. My fellow students and I gathered atop one of the high boulders to chat and take in the excellent atmosphere. The day had been a mostly gray one, but the sun was now peeking through and everything was especially stunning.
I was incredibly sad to leave when my tour guide announced that it was time to go. I was grateful that my advisors had organized this trip (which was included in the price I paid to be part of the program along with my classes and dorm accommodation) because it made for some good quality time with my fellow students, and we really did learn a lot from the guide. However it seemed we had hardly scratched the surface of what the area had to offer. It was a cold, windy, and wet March day, but luckily the skies were fair by the time we reached the causeway.
At any rate, the beauty of this site lies not in the weather but in the story of the rocks, how they came to be and the way they stand now, no matter which story you choose to believe. Just try to imagine the hands of a giant, placing the columns together one by one, stretching them all the way across the sea!