CNN’s John D Sutter is touring the island of Ireland clockwise. Eventually, he arrives to what he calls “Northern Ireland’s most popular attraction”.
His description of the Giant’s Causeway hints at the magical: “A golf-course green canyon wall slopes into a set of volcanic rock formations that are completely surreal: Near-perfect hexagon tubes are stacked next to each other like puzzle pieces.”
Something this pretty couldn’t be the result of a volcanic eruption 60 million years ago, could it?
Well, there are two lines of thought on that one. The first involves a certain giant by the name of Finn McCool (also known as Fionn mac Cumhaill).
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Finn is having trouble with someone across the water. The Scottish giant Benandonner is threatening Ireland. An enraged Finn grabs chunks of the Antrim coast and throws them into the sea. The rock forms a path for Finn to follow and teach Benandonner a lesson.
Bad idea – Benandonner is terrifyingly massive. Finn beats a hasty retreat, followed by the giant, only to be saved by our hero’s quick-thinking wife who disguised him as a baby. The angry Scot saw the baby and decided if the child was that big, the daddy must be really huge.
Mythical landscapes, magical tales
For Eleanor Killough, a guide at the new state-of-the-art visitor centre, the Finn story holds water: “Of course it was Finn McCool! That’s what we the locals believe anyway.
“We give our visitors the two sides of the coin – the stories and the science and let them decide, but most visitors leave believing this place is an ancient home of a mighty giant.”
As Eleanor says, though, there are two sides to the story.
The science bit
“The Giant’s Causeway is the aftermath of volcanic crashing, burning and cooling,” Eleanor explains. “An epic 60-million-year-old legacy to lava. Over 40,000 basalt columns. Interlocked.
“It’s no wonder this place is a Unesco World Heritage Site because beyond the mindboggling beauty, the Causeway is our portal into Earth’s most ancient past,” she concludes.
Whatever you choose to believe, there’s no disputing that the Causeway makes a pretty picture. Thousands of tourists click their cameras here every year, and when the Olympic Torch visited Northern Ireland, it was a photo opportunity not to be missed.
Director Ben Joyner was so enamoured with the Causeway, he put it on screen. The result won Discover Ireland’s “Jump Into Ireland” video competition.
Giant or science? Maybe you should check it out for yourself.