Discover the Amazing Stories Behind the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland

Igneous Rock Landscape

Written by Nina Phillips

Published: March 6, 2024

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There are many things about earth and life that science just isn’t able to explain yet. Before some of these items could be explained by science, myths, and stories were people’s ways of making sense of these unusual parts of nature. One such example is the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland.

This coastal structure is unusual but entirely natural. It was so unexplainable to humans centuries ago that they created a story revolving around giants.

Want to know more about the myth, and the truth of the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland? Keep reading below.

What Is the Giant’s Causeway?

sunset over basalt columns Giant's Causeway, County Antrim, Northern Ireland

Giant’s causeway looks unnatural, but it has entirely natural causes.

The Giant’s Causeway is a series of natural columns found along the coast of Northern Ireland. There are roughly 40,000 basalt columns. Most of these columns are hexagonal, having six sides. However, there are some with four, five, seven, or eight sides as well.

Some of the columns aren’t very high at all, a part of the normal ground you walk on. Others are closer to 39 feet high.

In 1986, UNESCO made the Giant’s Causeway a World Heritage Site. Then, in 1987, Northern Ireland declared it a national nature reserve. According to a poll, the Giant’s Causeway is considered the fourth-greatest natural wonder in the entirety of the UK.

The Giant’s Causeway and the surrounding Causeway Coast have been an attraction for tourists for over 300 years. They’re also popular for scientists, as these unique basalt shapes and cliff faces help clear up the history of the earth and some of the more important geological events throughout history.

It’s not just the columns in the area that are important. The cliffs, shores, marshes, and grasslands are all environmentally important. They are home to many important and endangered species of animals.

Who Owns the Giant’s Causeway?

Because it’s such important land for Northern Ireland, most of it is managed by the National Trust. It’s one of the most popular destinations in the country for tourists, getting roughly a million visitors a year. The best part is that it’s relatively cheap to visit. For members of the National Trust, visiting is free. For tourists, it costs somewhere between $17 and $20.

The parts of the causeway that aren’t owned and managed by the National Trust are broken up and owned by several private landowners as well as the Crown estate.

Why Is it Called the Giant’s Causeway?

The Giant's Causeway  in the morning.

The Giant’s Causeway is beautiful, though not made by giants as the name suggests.

The name came about because of stories to do with these towering columns. It was thought that, due to the size, a giant must have built them up.

It was said that the Irish giant, known as Fionn mac Cumhaill, was challenged to a fight by the Scottish giant, Benandonner. The Fionn built the causeway so that they could meet up.

That’s one version of the story, but there are a few others. In one, Fionn defeats Benandonner. In another, he hides when he realizes how big his opponent is. He pretends to be a baby, hidden in a cradle by his wife. When, when Benandonner sees the “baby,” and realizes how large the father must be, he flees from Northern Ireland. When he fled, he destroyed part of the causeway so that Fionn couldn’t follow him.

These myths appear because the Scottish isle of Staffa has similar columns. They are at Fingal’s Cave across the sea. The columns aren’t perfectly identical, but they are incredibly similar. They’re also probably from the same set of volcanic eruptions.

How Did the Causeway Form?

The Giant’s Causeway formed an estimated 60 million years ago. This area of Northern Ireland experienced extreme volcanic activity. During that period, magma and liquid basalt shot through parts of chalk beds.

Then, as the basalt cooled, contraction occurred and cracks formed. The different sizes of the columns came about because of the different cooling times for each column.

Where Is it Located?

The Giant’s Causeway is located in Ireland. Specifically, it’s in the County Antrim. This is on the north coast of Northern Ireland. It’s about three miles northeast of Bushmills and 25 miles northeast of Londonderry.

The causeway full of basalt columns lies in between Causeway Head and Benbane Head.

Animals Near the Giant’s Causeway

Giants Causeway, Northern Ireland

This unique tourist attraction is the feature of some lovely Irish legends.

The area is known to be a haven for many forms of wildlife and plants. It’s most notable for being a place where seabirds such as razorbills, shags, cormorants, petrels, and fulmars can land and rest. Overall, over 50 species of birds call the Giant’s Causeway and some of the surrounding land home for at least a part of its life.

As for plants, you’ll find plenty around, such as sea spleenwort, vernal squill, frog orchid, and sea fescue. There are roughly 200 species of plants in the area.

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About the Author

Nina is a writer at A-Z Animals, FIDIS Travel, and Giant Freakin Robot. Her focus is on wildlife, national parks, and the environment. She has been writing about animals for over three years. Nina holds a Bachelor's in Conservation Biology, which she uses when talking about animals and their natural habitats. In her free time, Nina also enjoys working on writing her novels and short stories. As a resident of Colorado, Nina enjoys getting out in nature, traveling, and watching snow hit the mountains from her enclosed porch.

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