Walking in the footsteps of giants

Giant's Causeway, World Heritage Site, Northern Ireland

Walking in the footsteps of giants

  |   Articles, UNESCO   |   5 Comments

This is the website of travel writer, Michael Turtle. After working in broadcast journalism for a decade in Australia, Michael left Sydney to travel the world indefinitely and write about his discoveries.

Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland

It’s much more fun to believe the legend, right?

Especially when it involves a large Irish giant called Finn MacCool who was challenged to a fight by another giant – a Scottish one across the water.

Giant's Causeway, World Heritage Site, Northern Ireland

Finn, being Irish, loved only one thing more than fighting and that was accepting a challenge. So he decided to head across the water to fight this other giant, called Benandonner. He could hardly swim there, though, could he? And giants aren’t really known for their sailing skills. So, instead, Finn MacCool built a causeway out of stone from Ireland to Scotland.

Giant's Causeway, World Heritage Site, Northern Ireland

“Ah, I see,” I hear you say. “This is where the Giant’s Causeway gets its name because it looks like it’s a path made of stone heading out across the water.”

Well done! Yes, you’re absolutely right.

“But hang on,” you ask hesitantly, forming your thoughts in your mind. “It doesn’t go very far. Did Finn not finish it or has it been destroyed?”

A perfect question that leads on to the next bit of the legend.

Giant's Causeway, World Heritage Site, Northern Ireland

You see, Finn MacCool did finish the causeway and it connected the whole way from where we’re standing here on the coast of present day Northern Ireland all the way to Scotland, where you can still see the other end today, heading into the water.

Finn strode across that causeway he built, chest puffed out, arms swinging proudly, eyes fixed ahead, as he went to meet the Scottish giant Benandonner for this fight. The problem was… well, you see… Finn made it to the other side and he saw Benandonner and he realised he was much bigger than he expected and he decided he probably wouldn’t be able to beat him and he considered staying and fighting but really he did what was probably best, yes, probably the right thing to do and he turned around… and he ran all the way home to Ireland!

Giant's Causeway, World Heritage Site, Northern Ireland

Giant's Causeway, World Heritage Site, Northern Ireland

But Benandonner had spotted Finn coming in the distance and when he saw him turn around, he started to chase after him across the causeway. Finn arrived back in Ireland and realised he was being chased. He didn’t know what to do. But his wife, Oonagh, had a good idea. She told him to dress up like a baby and get into a cot.

When Benandonner arrived at Finn’s house, he demanded his fight but Oonagh told him that Finn wasn’t home. He started to get angry and began to shout. “Shhh… or you’ll wake the baby,” Oonagh said. Benandonner went into the other room and looked in the cot and saw what he thought was a baby. “Gosh, if that’s the size of Finn’s baby, imagine how big Finn must be,” he thought to himself. Suddenly he was the one who was scared.

Giant's Causeway, World Heritage Site, Northern Ireland

So Benandonner ran back across the stone path to Scotland, terrified and pretty relieved that he didn’t have to face Finn in the end. In fact, he was so scared of the idea of fighting Finn that he smashed the causeway as he retreated so there was no chance that he would be chased.

And that’s why today you can only see the two ends of the causeway that were left on the coasts of Scotland and Northern Ireland – the much larger and more impressive one being here near Finn’s home.

Giant's Causeway, World Heritage Site, Northern Ireland

Giant's Causeway, World Heritage Site, Northern Ireland

“Wow, great story,” I hear you say. “That’s the truth, isn’t it? That’s what really happened, right?”

Well… I’m not one to ruin a decent tale but there is an alternative version that some people tell. It’s pretty boring, though, so I’ll keep it short.

This story goes that about 60 million years ago there was intense volcanic activity happening beneath modern day Ireland and Scotland. Some of the molten basalt broke through the seabed and formed a lava plateau. But as it cooled down, it contracted and cracked. And the contracting and the cracking formed these pillar shapes that seem to have identical polygonal shapes like hexagons or pentagons. If you think about it, it does pretty much look like the same pattern you get when a puddle of mud dries up.

Giant's Causeway, World Heritage Site, Northern Ireland

Giant's Causeway, World Heritage Site, Northern Ireland

Anyway, sorry, I told you that story is boring and doesn’t have nearly enough giants in it.

Regardless of which tale you want to believe, you can’t deny the rather spectacular sight of seeing the Giant’s Causeway for yourself. There are about 40,000 basalt columns that make up the promontory and you can walk all over it and explore it yourself. The waves will splash up and wet you if you get too close, but it’s quite incredible that you can do more than just look at this marvel from a distance.

Giant's Causeway, World Heritage Site, Northern Ireland

Go out on the rocks and pretend you’re a lava plateau, cooling and cracking. Or, if you think it might be a bit more fun, pretend you’re Finn MacCool, an Irish giant building a causeway to run across the sea to Scotland.

You can find out more information here about the Giants Causeway in Northern Ireland

Time Travel Turtle was supported by Tourism Ireland but the opinions, over-written descriptions and bad jokes are his own.

UNESCO world heritage siteThis is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. For more info click here.
You can see all the UNESCO World Heritage Sites I’ve visited here.

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  • Mary @ Green Global Travel | Sep 1, 2014 at 5:49 am

    Amazing photos of this geologic structure! The legend makes it even more interesting and fun to imagine! Thanks for sharing!
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  • Adrian of Adrian's Travel Tales | Sep 3, 2014 at 1:29 pm

    This is a wonderful telling of the story and even better photography! I had heard about the Giant’s Causeway before but didn’t know much about it. Now it’s going on the bucket list! :)
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  • Janice Stringer | Sep 4, 2014 at 1:07 pm

    I love the combination of the two stories – it combines creation and evolution- two of my most favourite subjects. I adore the idea that as we are made of atoms, these may revolve so quickly we become matter. Part of the great divine and the wonderful world!
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  • Stephanie - The Travel Chica | Sep 5, 2014 at 12:48 am

    Cool photos
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