Friday, March 18, 2011

The Giant's Causeway.

The Giants Causeway.

In County Antrim there is a place that is steeped in the mythology and folklore of Ireland. That place is known as The Giants Causeway.

Its ‘discovery’ was announced in 1693 by Sir Richard Bulkeley, a fellow of Trinity College, Dublin, when presenting a paper to the Royal Society. However, the ‘discoverer who should have received credit for it was the Bishop of Derry who had visited the site a year earlier.

There was a great deal of argument concerning the creation of the Causeway. Some said it had been created by men with picks and chisels, some said it was the result of nature, and some said it was the work of a giant.

The issue was finally settled in 1771 when a Frenchman by the name of Demarest, announced the true origin of the Causeway was the result of volcanic action.
In 1740, a Dublin spinster’s realistic sketches brought the Causeway to the attention of the public and ever since it has attracted visitors from all over the world.

What of its folklore?

One of the legends that surround The Giants Causeway concerns two giants, Finn McCool and Benandonner.

Finn MacCool, the handsome giant of Ireland, lived on the wild northern coast, and occasionally he sat at the edge of the sea, sucking on his thumb. Whenever he had a question, any puzzle at all, he sucked that thumb and the answer came.

Finn fell in love with a giantess named Oonagh who lived on a rocky isle across the Irish Sea. Trouble was Finn could not swim, so how would he reach his beloved? He thought a while, and then he tore up some trees, and he built himself a boat, but when he stepped inside, that boat sank under his weight. After all, Finn was a giant.

So Finn sucked on his thumb, and next thing he was gathering columns of rock, six-sided each, flat-topped and weighing 10 tons. He stood on the shore and tossed those columns, one after another, into the sea. In this way he formed a path all the way to Oonagh’s Island.

Oonagh was very impressed (what woman wouldn’t be?), and it was not long before they were married and shortly after she had a son (fast workers, these giants?). They called their son Ossian and he grew up and left home to live with the faeries (I’m saying nothing?) but let’s just say they were sad when he left.

However, they were not sad for long and they commenced singing. Everyone could hear them and as their singing was better than Jedward’s it didn’t upset them. Everyone that is except Benandonner, he was another giant that lived a lonely miserable life on the Isle of Straffa and he was very happy being miserable and did not wish to hear happy singing coming from his neighbours.

Benandonner decided he had to silence yer man Finn and while he was at it he might as well take his wife home with him so with this in mind he challenged Finn for Oonagh’s hand. Now Benandonner was a big ugly smelly yoke and as he dressed in old rat skins and had three eyes, one in the middle of his forehead, he had no chance of Oonagh but Finn Invited him to come over “if yer think yer hard enough”.

The following day Benandonner arrived at the house and knocked on the door. Oonagh answered, “Finn’s out at the minute come back tomorrow”. “O.K” said Benandonner and as this made him very miserable altogether he was quite happy.

When Finn arrived back he saw Benandonner’s footprints outside his door. “Jezus would ye look at the size of them” he began having second thoughts. “Oonagh, that gobshite must be massive”, said Finn. Oonagh said “Don’t you be worrying; I have an idea that will put manners on him”

The next morning there was a knock on the door. This time Finn was home but he was hiding in the baby cradle that had once been Ossian’s. He was covered with blankets so only his eyes could be seen.

“Is this yer baby” Benandonner asked, “Yes he is, and his father will be home soon”.

Oonagh had baked some cakes and invited Benandonner to sit down and have some while he waited. What he didn’t know was that she had baked a cake with pieces of metal in it and it was this that she gave him. When he took a bite he let out a scream “I’ve bust me tooth” he wailed, “What have you put in them”. “Only a bit of butter and cream, a few eggs and some flour, sure the baby loves them” and she gave one to Finn (without any metal in it).

“That child must have teeth of iron” said Benandonner and he bent over and for some unknown reason he stuck his finger in the baby’s mouth (he wasn’t a bright giant).

Surprise, surprise, Crunch! Finn bit down so hard he bit the finger clean off.
Benandonner let out another scream, “What kind of child is this, he’s strong enough to bite off a giant’s finger?”

“Aragh, he’s only a wee thing” said Oonagh, “He’s not that strong but his daddy is trying to teach him how to get better”

Benandonner laughed nervously. "What kind of things is he teaching him?" he asked.
Oonagh smiled “Oh just things” she said.

Benandonner began to tremble, and then he said, "I'll be going now," and he backed out of the house and ran across the causeway. Halfway across a thought struck him, and he stopped. Working feverishly with all his great strength, he carried away the middle section of those rocks, one by one, for he had no wish for a visit from the monstrous Finn.

So that is the reason why only the beginning and the end remain of the Giant's Causeway, one on Staffa Island, home of Benandonner, and another on the Antrim coast, just near the place where Finn lived.

Volcanic action or a giant’s fear, you decide.


  1. Another magical Irish place to put on my wishlist - I studied environmental science at uni so head tells me it's volcanic action, but the legend is so great heart prefers to believe that instead. Excellent post Silent Owl; Hope you are well. Radders

  2. How's it goin Radders. I'm in great form as I hope you are (thanks for asking). As you well know your head is right the causeway was formed 60 million years ago through volcanic activity. It is the same mountain range that Edinburgh castle sits upon. However, Finn may have used the resulting basalt columns to form his pathway. So maybe your heart is just a little bit right. It would be nice to think so for modern science is very young in comparison to the old Irish myths and legends. Keep smiling. Silent Owl.

  3. Hi Silent Owl, Its going great. As you rightly state, science is so much younger than myth and legend, in the great scheme of things, science is a relative newcomer, and myths are so much more interesting. I think that for many there's room in the world for both, and I, for one, think that myth and legend make the world a far more interesting place. I've been coming over to Ireland from Wales for years now and it's beautiful and rich mythical heritage is one of the things that keeps me coming back (that and the people are so great!). Hope you have a great day. Radders

  4. Thank you Radders. As this is the land of myth and legend (followed closely by Wales and Scotland, I'm biased) I tend to lean more in the direction of the 'old ways' rather than modern science. There is nothing wrong with 'The New' but just because it is old does not mean it has no value in the modern world. I will also make full use of modern technology and medicines as well as herbs and old technology. A nice mix of the two?