The Fascinating History of the Giant’s Causeway: Legends vs Reality

By Aashima

Giant’s Causeway is a natural wonder in Ireland with a fascinating history and legends that spark curiosity among its visitors.

Scientists suggest that Giant’s Causeway Formation dates back 50 to 60 million years ago due to volcanic eruptions and the cooling down of molten lava after meeting the sea.

However, according to Irish mythology, the history of the Giant’s Causeway is associated with the Giant Finn McCool, who built it for either love or war.

One story says that McCool built it to reach out to another giant. 

Another suggests he built it so that he could see his beloved staying in Scotland.

Both of these stories are popular and add a layer of wonder to the history of the Giant’s Causeway.

In this article, we will learn about the Giant’s Causeway history, formation, and associated legends.

What is the Giant’s Causeway?

The Giant’s Causeway is a natural wonder comprised of approximately 40,000 interlocking basalt columns resulting from an ancient volcanic eruption.

These hexagonal columns, formed as lava cooled and contracted, create a unique and visually stunning landscape.

Where is the Giant’s Causeway?

Giant’s Causeway is located on the north coast of Northern Ireland. It is about 5 km northeast of the town of Bushmills.

How was the Giant’s Causeway formed?

The Giant’s Causeway was formed approximately 50 to 60 million years ago during the Paleocene Epoch.

Intense volcanic activity in Antrim led to the intrusion of molten basalt through chalk beds, creating a volcanic plateau.

As the lava cooled, contraction occurred, resulting in today’s distinctive hexagonal basalt columns.

However, according to Irish mythology, there is another Giant’s Causeway history and folklore, making it an interesting place to explore.

Legend of Giant’s Causeway:  Finn McCool and his Rival

Once upon a time, an Irish giant named Finn McCool fought a war of words across the water between Scotland and Ireland with another giant named Benandonner.

Who was Finn McCool?

Finn McCool, also known as Finn MacCool, is a legendary hero in Irish mythology.

According to some, he led a group of young warrior-hunters called the Fianna. He is not just a skilled warrior but also a seer and poet.

The tales of Finn and his Fianna are part of the Fianna Cycle or Fenian Cycle, narrated by his son, the poet Oisín.

Each claimed they could beat the other in a fight. To facilitate this clash, Finn built the famous Giant’s Causeway.

There are a couple of versions of what happened next. In one version, a brave Finn defeats the mighty Benandonner.

However, in another story, upon reaching Scotland, Finn realized the Scottish giant was much bigger than he had anticipated. So, he ran back but Ben followed him.

While running back, McCol also left his giant boot on the causeway, which can be seen today.

Finn’s wife (mentioned by different names) devised a tricky plan. She disguises Finn as a baby and tucks him into a cradle.

When Benandonner sees the size of the “baby,” he panics, thinking, “If the baby is this big, how enormous the daddy must be!”

Benandonner got scared and rushed back to Scotland, destroying the Giant’s Causeway behind him.

Here’s a fun part: Across the sea, there’s a fingal’s cave on the Scottish isle. It has basalt columns identical to the Giant’s Causeway.

This makes some people think that the story and history of the Giant’s Causeway might be connected to Fingal’s Cave.

Also, the origins of Fingal’s Cave are associated with Finn McCool’s exploits.

Do you know?

The story of McCol and Giant’s Causeway is so popular in both Irish and Scottish mythology that it is also taught in primary classes there.

See the site yourself and learn about the easiest ways to get there by reading our article on the location and directions to Giant’s Causeway.

Giant’s Causeway Story: McCool’s Unfinished Love

A lesser-known story about Giant’s Causeway suggests it was made by Finn McCool not for war but rather for love.

Back in the 1700s and early 1800s, Finn fell in love with a Scottish maiden but couldn’t reach her due to the distance.

Along the shore, he tossed stones across the sea to bridge the gap and create a causeway to be closer to his love.

Day after day, Finn labored, making good progress, extending the causeway into the sea. Confident he’d finish the next day, he went home.

However, his grandmother feared that he’d leave for Scotland and used magic to summon a storm. Waves and wind vanished the causeway by the next day.

Finn started again without losing hope, but storms destroyed his progress each night.

Despite the challenges, he persevered, working through the night. Thunder, lightning, and wild waves fought against him.

Finally, he reached the other side, but the effort proved too much for the giant. Exhausted by the work, he fell and died in the arms of his beloved.

As Finn lay, the causeway he built sank below the waves for the last time.

Suddenly, a thunderclap echoed, and Finn’s Granny was also turned to stone on a hill, where she stands frozen to this day.

However, this legend associated with the history of the Giant’s Causeway is less popular than the other one.

There are some more interesting things about this causeway that will encourage you to visit it at least once in your lifetime. 

Read our article on some interesting facts about the Giant’s Causeway and get ready to get your mind blown by them.

Historical Timeline: History of the Giant’s Causeway

50 to 60 Million Years Ago (Paleocene Epoch): Antrim experienced intense volcanic activity, leading to the intrusion of molten basalt through chalk beds, forming the Thulean Plateau, which included the basalts of the Giant’s Causeway, during this geological period.

1692: The Bishop of Derry visits the site, marking early recognition.

1739: Artist Susanna Drury’s watercolor paintings bring international attention to the Giant’s Causeway.

1765: French Encyclopédie includes an entry on the causeway, suggesting volcanic origins.

1960s: The National Trust takes over the site’s care, removing vestiges of commercialism.

1986: UNESCO declares the Giant’s Causeway a World Heritage Site, recognizing its geological significance. A visitor center was also set up.

1987: The Department of the Environment for Northern Ireland designates the Giant’s Causeway as a national nature reserve.

2000: The original Giant’s Causeway Visitor Center burns down, leaving the causeway without a permanent facility.

2005: Radio Times readers rank the Giant’s Causeway as the fourth-greatest natural wonder in the United Kingdom.

2012: A new visitor center, funded by the National Trust, Northern Ireland Tourist Board, Heritage Lottery Fund, and public donations, officially opens.

Today: The Causeway and visitor center are visited by nearly 1 million people annually, making them one of Northern Ireland’s most popular tourist attractions.

Giant’s Causeway Formation: Scientific Theories

According to scientific theories, the history of the Giant’s Causeway dates back about 50 to 60 million years ago, during the Paleocene Epoch.

During that time, there was a lot of volcanic activity, and hot molten basalt, like super-hot melted rock, burst through chalk beds, creating a massive volcanic plateau.

As this molten rock, or lava, cooled down, it formed into these incredible structures, creating pillar-like hexagonal structures.

Some of these pillars even look like stepping stones or giant stairs leading into the sea.

The size and shape of these columns depended on how fast the lava cooled down.

The whole thing was part of a huge volcanic plateau called the Thulean Plateau, which formed during the Paleocene.

The Giant’s Causeway was created with about 40,000 hexagonal basalt columns. It acquired a hexagonal shape due to the quick cooling of lava when it met the sea.

These columns are so regularly ranged and fitted one to the other that it seems more like a work of art than nature.

It’s like nature’s own artwork, telling a story that began millions and millions of years ago.

FAQs about Giant’s Causeway History

1. What type of rock is the Giant’s Causeway made of?

The Giant’s Causeway is made of basalt, a type of volcanic rock.

The hexagonal columns formed as the basalt cooled and contracted, creating a unique geological formation.

2. What is the mystery of the Giant’s Causeway?

The mystery of the Giant’s Causeway is how it got its unique hexagonal columns to fit together perfectly like giant puzzle pieces.

Scientists explain this magic by looking back in time to a period called the Paleocene Epoch. 

However, locals tell stories about giants, like Finn McCool, creating the Causeway. 

3. Where is the natural wonder known as the Giant’s Causeway?

The Giant’s Causeway is located on the north coast of Northern Ireland, approximately 5 km northeast of the town of Bushmills.

4. What is the Legend of Giant’s Causeway?

According to legend, the Giant’s Causeway was built by the Irish giant Finn McCool to confront his Scottish rival Benandonner.

However, another legend suggests that it was made by him to meet his beloved.

These legends or folklore make the history of the Giant’s Causeway more interesting for visitors.

5. Is Giant’s Causeway worth it?

Yes, the Giant’s Causeway is one of Northern Ireland’s most popular tourist attractions.

With its stunning natural beauty, unique geological formations, and rich folklore, the site offers visitors a memorable and worthwhile experience.

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Aashima (1)
About the author

Aashima is an avid traveler who seeks out thrills and lives a simple, peaceful life. Bright clear skies are her calling.