Irish NamesThe Giant's Causeway is known as Clochán an Aifir and Clochán na bhFomhórach in Irish. Also, Scottish dialects (Ulster-Scots) in Ulster, Ireland name it as tha Giant's Causey.
The name 'Giant's Causeway' comes from a legend. The geology of this piece of land by the sea is no less than a natural wonder. It has been a point of focus for both artists and scientists, who have been visiting the place since the past 300 years.
One of the Most Scenic World Heritage Places on the Planet
The Giant's Causeway and the Causeway Coast in Northern Ireland was declared a World Heritage Site, by UNESCO, in 1986. Also a National Nature Reserve, it spans over an area of about three miles. This pronounced structure that connects the sea and land so effortlessly, is simply incomparable to any human endeavor to craft perfection.
The Causeway comprises of many columns of basalt, which are completely interlocked into each other. Individually, these basalt stones number around 40,000. Waters of the North Atlantic Ocean gushing over them is a marvelous sight to experience.
The basalt columns and individual stones within them vary in size and shapes, and are spread around at different heights. Horizontal sections of the basalt look like a road laid down with a perfect mesh of polygonal rocks. Mostly, stones are pentagonal and hexagonal in shape, but some stones are four-, seven-, or eve eight-sided. The stones are usually about 45 centimeters in diameter, whereas the vertical columns or cliffs, comprising these stones, are some 100 meters high.
Apart from the stunning rock formation, the Causeway Coast and its environs is home to around 50 different species of birds. These include the fulmar, petrel, redshank, cormorant, shag, guillemot, razorbill, and others. The heritage site has various habitats, and is a protected zone for its shores, marshes, grasslands, scree, scrub, beaches, and its biodiversity. Once inhabited by humans, this world heritage now caters only to tourists.
The Causeway Legend
There is a legend about the Giant's Causeway originating from Gaelic mythology. The Irish giant Fionn mac Cumhaill (Finn MacCool) is believed to have built the Causeway as a path to the Scottish island of Staffa (across the sea), which also has identical basalt columns. This is probably the reason behind the folklore that describes a fight between Fionn and the Scottish giant Benandonner; variations in the legend, however, speak of different ends to this fable.
The Giant's Causeway has been a very crucial case study for geologists from across the world. Exposed sections of the interbasaltic bed here, has helped in analyzing geological activities from the tertiary period to a great extent.
This spectacular interlocking of basalt was a result of intense volcanic activity in Antrim, which occurred around 50-60 million years ago in the Tertiary period. The lava, spread over an area of approximately 3,800 sq. km, is the largest remaining lava plateau in Europe. Molten basalt in the form of lava flowed towards the sea, and formed a lava plateau. It cooled and contracted gradually over time. Acute pressure, due to contraction, fractured the plateau. Later, as it cooled, cracks and fractures developing horizontally and vertically within the rock bed formed the pillar-like structures or columns.
Weathering of the rocks by water and wind has altered their original shapes, which resemble certain entities, like the Giant's Boot, the Organ, the Chimney Stacks, the Giant's Eyes, the Giant's Harp, the Shepherd's Steps, the Honeycomb, the Giant's Gate, and the Camel's Hump, some of which form the popular tourist attractions at the site.
Sea waves splashing over these polygonal stones add to the beauty of the stony causeway. Tiny pools of water left back on the heads of these stones reflect sunlight and give a glowing feel to the whole site. No one can escape being mesmerized!