The History of the Giants Causeway – Scientific or Romantic, which do you prefer?

When visitors to Northern Ireland come to the Giant’s Causeway, a World Heritage Site, there are varied reactions but no one can deny that it is an awesome experience, in the truest sense of the word. As for its history, there are also various versions. On the scientific version, there is still some debate, but on the older and far more romantic version, people are pretty much in agreement.

Geologists have come from all over the world to study and ponder upon this natural wonder. A stretch of sea coast where hundreds of thousands (the popular guesstimate is 40,000 but that doesn’t include the ones under water) of basalt columns grouped together in such a way that they form a sort of giant pathway into the sea. There are no round columns, only four or six or eight-sided, straight-edged rock formations as much as 36 feet in height.

Most scientists agree that they resulted from a massive lava flow about 60 million years ago, in which the molten lava was rapidly cooled in air and water. After hundreds of thousands of years another eruption took place, this time cooling more slowly in a flat pool, with cracks that became the basalt columns we see today. However they were buried in the course of later eruptions, and scientists believe they were inundated several times by rising and falling sea levels. Only about 1,500 years ago would the ’causeway’ as it appears now begin to show itself again.

There is little doubt remaining that the columns are a result of fire, not sediment deposited over millions of years that dried out over more millions, forming the basalt columns from cracks and joints in surrounding softer rock. However they were formed, it took a very long time and considerable upheaval in the earth’s crust and mantle.

For the shorter version, Irish myth has it that giants formed the Giant’s Causeway. The Irish giant Finn McCool was at loggerheads with a Scottish giant named Bernandonner or Fingal – here the story differs slightly according to the source. Most agree that it started with insults hurled across the channel between Ireland and Scotland, and either McCool built the causeway, or Fingal/Bernandonner built it, or it was already there.

At any rate, when Fingal decided to cross and do away with his Irish enemy, Finn’s wife Oonagh was clever enough to disguise him in baby’s clothing and tell Fingal that his father would be back shortly. Seeing the size of the ‘baby’ Fingal beat a retreat across the channel, tearing up the causeway on the way so he couldn’t be pursued by a giant far bigger than he was. Many stories claim that Fingal was so intimidated he crept into a cave to hide, and on the Scottish side to this day you can visit Fingal’s Cave.