The Journal Of Antiquities

Ancient Sites In Great Britain & Southern Ireland

The Giant’s Causeway, North County Antrim Coast, Northern Ireland

The Giant’s Causeway on the North Antrim Coast, Northern Ireland.

NGR: NR 1332 0335. On the north coast of County Antrim, 2½ miles northeast of Bush-mills, in Northern Ireland, is the mysterious rock formation known as The Giant’s Causeway, which is also a well-known tourist attraction and no doubt a must for any geologist! These strange hexagonal and polygonal-shaped columns of black basalt being grouped into colonnades that cover a four-mile wide area of the Antrim coastline, and there are thousands-upon-thousands of them! The legendary giant, Finn McCool, used the causeway as stepping-stones between the Irish coast and the Scottish coast. These basalt columns, towers and pyramid-shapes vary in size between very tall to quite small, and they have been smoothed by the pummeling waves from the sea and from weathering over thousands of years, though the rock formations date back 50 million years to the time of lava-spewing Volcanoes. There are other strange rock formations here that have, over the years, acquired strange names due to their shapes: The Giants’ Organ and The Camel’s Hump for instance. Take the Causeway Coastal Path (west) from Dunseverick for 4 miles along the cliff-tops, or from the visitor centre at Bushmills (check first to see if the centre is open at this time of Covid-19).

The Giant’s Causeway in Co. Antrim, N. Ireland.

Wonders of the World (1930) tells us that: “The Irish would not be true to the spirit of Celtic mysticism and poetry had they not woven around one of the wonders of the world, the Giant’s Causeway in the County of Antrim, a mesh of legend, folklore and romance. The existence of fields upon fields of gigantic, truncated pyramids of columns of varying polygonal sides had to be explained, as also that of the Porticoon and Dunkerry caves, into the darkness of which boats are rowed on the swell of the waves and in whose mysterious depths sounds reverberate as from the cannon’s mouth. Here, where the columns rise, forming, as it were, the back to a low step, is My Lady’s Wishing Chair; there were the basaltic mass takes a weird shape, are the Nurse and Child who were petrified by a giant because his wife had betrayed him — so runs the legend.  And, in a similar strain run hundreds of legends, the chronicling of which would constitute an epic poem of giants unparalleled in the literature.

“The giant Fin MacCoul, would be the hero, for he it was who is reputed to have built the Great Causeway across the sea to Scotland, so that his enemy, the Scottish giant, might step over high and dry to get the thrashing he so richly deserved. The Giants’ Amphitheatre, with its perfect tiers of broken columns overlooking the bay, was built by him to amuse his quests, and when he breathed heavily, the pipes of the Giants’ Organ, likewise formed of high columns, played a tune the exact notes of which have presumably been lost to us.

Giant’s Causeway.

“It would be impossible within the limits of a short paragraph to do justice to the strangeness and poetry of the Giant’s Causeway.  It is a honeycombed series of beaches without a grain of sand, flanked by the ruins of two castles, Dunseverick and Danluce, situated high above the sea on isolated crags. Nor must the Carrick-a-Rede be forgotten, that lonely rock island in the path of the salmon shoals.  To reach it during the season fishermen sling a rope bridge be-tween it and the mainland, eighty feet above the roaring waves.  A photograph gives but a passing impression of what is surely one of the unique spots on our globe.  Unfortunately it cannot do justice to the whole range of wonderful beach, for the very simple reason that no two spots resemble each other, but are as varied in form as are the legend or romance atta-ched to each.  The size of the columns and pyramids varies likewise, some attaining a height of thirty feet.  Now they are close-fitting, forming a level tessellated floor, now loose and irregular.

“At times their regularity is so perfect as to appear to be wrought by hand and to have been artificially grouped into colonnades of most exquisite harmony and design; at others, all is wild and broken and thrown about as though giants had really spent their time and their strength in destroying the very things they are reputed to have created.”

Romantic Britain (1948) says that: “On the Antrim coast is the Giant’s Causeway where a mass of once molten rock has cooled and solidified into innumerable columns of basalt, most of them of hexagonal shape. Fingal’s Cave in the Isle of Staffa, presents a similar formation and legend claims both these outcrops as remnants of a bridge built by an Irish giant. The Giant’s Causeway at Antrim is said to have been flung across the sea to Scotland by Fionn, to hasten his hostile encounter with a fearsome Scottish rival. Cloughmore (Big Stone) at Rostrevor, was hurled, it is said, by the Scottish giant at Fionn’s head and just missed it! Fionn retaliated with the Isle of Man which he pulled out of the space now occupied by Lough Neagh.”

Nicholson (1983) adds that the Giant’s Causeway is: “A rare and famous series of cliffs that resulted from gigantic outpourings of volcanic basalt in remote tertiary times. The rock cooled as a lower layer of thousands of regular hexagonal columns and an upper layer of slim uneven prisms like a crazy architect’s fantasy. This amazing piece of coast belongs to the National Trust.”

Sources / References & Related Websites:-

Nicholson, Guide To Ireland — The Essential Touring Companion, Robert Nicholson Publications Limited, London, 1983.

Romantic Britain (Edited by Tom Stephenson), Odhams Press Limited, Long Acre, London, 1948.

Wonders Of The World (forward by Sir Philip Gibbs, K.B.E.,), Odhams Press & Hutchinson & Co. (Publishers) Ltd., London, 1930.

More info here:

Copyright © Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2020.