For those of you who enjoy nature and its wonders, there’s an amazing place you should not miss when visiting Ireland. Rarely does nature create its own marvels – one of these marvels is the Giants Causeway.
Stairs of Nature
The Giants Causeway (Clochán na bhFómharach in Irish) is an area consisting of 40,000 interlocked basalt columns. The columns form a stair-like structure starting up top from the cliff edge and going down towards the sea. Most of these columns are hexagonal (having six sides) but some vary with four, five, seven and eight sides. The tallest columns are measured at 12 meters.
The formation was discovered by the Bishop of Derry in 1692. But international attention only came about when Dublin artist Susanna Drury made watercolor paintings of the scenery in 1739. The paintings won the first ever award of the Royal Dublin Society in 1740 and were engraved in 1743.The engravings were used for the 1765 French Encyclopédie. Inside, the caption from French geologist Nicolas Desmarest suggested for the first time that such structures were volcanic in origin.
The formation first became popular with tourists during the nineteenth century, after the opening of the Giants Causeway Tramway. Much of the gratitude should also come to the National Trust who took over its care in the 1960s.
This natural formation was the result of an ancient volcanic eruption; which according to studies happened some 55 millions years ago. During that period, Antrim was subject to violent volcanic activity. Molten basalt was spat out to form the volcanic plateau called the Thulean Plateaulava plateau. When the lava started to cool, cracks fractured through the entire plateau producing what now appears as the basalt columns.
Some of the formations in the causeway resemble objects. These are the Organ, the Giants Boot, the Giants Eyes, the Giants Gate, the Giants Harp, the Shepherds Steps, the Honeycomb, the Chimney Stacks, and the Camels Hump.
The cliffs are also home to many sea birds such as fulmar, petrel, cormorant, shag, redshank guillemot and razorbill. Also, a number of rare and unusual plants grow around such as spleenwort, hares foot trefoil, vernal squill, sea fescue and frog orchid.
Made by a Giant
Based on folklore, it was created by Fionn mac Cumhail, more popularly known as Finn McCool. Finn McCool is a famous warrior of Irish mythology. His stories and that of his people compose what is called the Fenian Cycle (Fiannaidheacht in Irish). The landscapes attributed to Finn were supposedly the result of his battles. The folklore says that once he scooped a part of Ireland to throw at an enemy. Finn missed his target and the piece of land fell in the Irish Sea – with most of it becoming what is now the Isle of Man and a small part becoming Rockall. The place where he scooped up land is now Lough Neagh. Legend has it that Finn built the Giants Causeway so as not to get his feet wet on this way to Scotland to fight his Scottish counterpart Benandonner.
One version tells that Finn fell asleep before he got to Scotland. The much larger Benandonner crossed the causeway looking for him. To protect Finn, his wife Oonagh laid a blanket over Finn so he could pretend that he was actually just their baby son. In another version, Finn fled after seeing that Benandonner was way bigger than him, and asked his wife to disguise him as a baby. Both versions ended the same way; Benandonner saw the size of the baby and got scared of what the father would be like. The giant fled home in terror, ripping up the causeway in case so as to avoid being followed by the father.
This attraction is located on the remote northeast coast of Northern Ireland, about 3 kilometers north of the village of Bushmills, in the County of Antrim. You can get there thru Ulsterbus 172 or 177. Ulsterbus 252 runs through a circular route via the Antrim Glens from the city of Belfast; this bus has a stop at the Giant’s Causeway. Also during summer, there’s a Causeway Rambler bus (Ulsterbus 376) that travels between Bushmills and Carrick-a-Rede. You can also travel by train thru the Giants Causeway and Bushmills Steam Railway (you can call them at (0) 28 2073 2844 for more info).
The formation was declared a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 1986. The following year, it was declared a National Nature Reserve by the Department of the Environment for Northern Ireland. The Giants Causeway was also named as the fourth greatest natural wonder in the United Kingdom by a poll conducted by a popular magazine in 2005. Currently, the site is owned and managed by the National Trust.
The Causeway is best enjoyed with an overnight stay. A holiday cottage in White Park Bay is available for rent in the old fishing hamlet of Portbraddan. The house can comfortably fit 6 people.
If you don’t want to stay overnight, then allot an entire day for the visit. Make sure you use comfortable shoes as you will be walking a lot. The tour starts at the visitor center. We suggest you go to the right and make your way to the cliff first. From there you can head down the causeway towards the water. This leads to a paved area that goes back to the center. The cliff is the best way to start since the view from up there is absolutely stunning a complete panorama of the Giants Causeway.
For those who are short for time and are too tired to walk, there are minibuses operated by Translink from the visitor center to the Causeway and back. The buses run one schedule for the entire day.
Also, if you plan on going through as many attractions as possible, you can plan this trip with a tour of the Old Bushmills Distillery in the village. The distillery is the only whiskey producing destination in Ireland that is open to the public. And we suggest you go to the Causeway first. We don’t want you tumbling down the columns due to whiskey shots! And of course, if you plan on going to the distillery then there should be a designated driver for the trip.