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Strange Rock Formation: Giant’s Causeway of Ireland

By James Donahue

Among the odd rock and earth formations in the world is the Giant’s Causeway, a strange area of about 40,000 interlocking basalt columns located on the extreme northeast coast of Northern Ireland near the town of Bushmills.

The columns are so perfectly formed, most of them shaped like hexagons on the ends, but they stand up to 36 feet in height. Others are square while a few have five, seven and even eight sides. The tops are level in places but then form stepping stones that lead from the foot of a rock cliff down into the sea.

The native legend has it that the columns were put there by Finn McCool, a giant of a man and Irish warrior, who built the causeway to walk to Scotland. There McCool wanted to do battle with Benandonner, his Scottish counterpart. Somehow, Benandonner got to the causeway first and came to Ireland looking for Finn. When Finn saw the giant coming for him he asked his wife Oonagh to disguise him as her baby. When Benandonner saw the size of the “infant” wrapped in a blanket, he assumed Finn must be gigantic, and fled home in terror. On his way he ripped up most of the causeway so Finn could not follow.

It was one of several tall Irish tales attempting to explain the origin of these unique rock formations.

Contemporary geologists, however, have taken all of the fun out of the stories. They say they believe the odd formations were the result of intense volcanic activity about 50 to 60 million years ago. They say highly fluid molten basalt was pushed upward through chalk beds to form a lava plateau comprised of these columns. The division into separate columns was caused by the fracturing of the cooling basalt.

The geologists have a lot of big words to further explain what occurred there but we get the picture. The hot planet was busy manufacturing amazing artistic designs that would keep humans entertained once we arrived.

The Giant’s Causeway is declared a World Heritage Site and a National Nature Reserve by Northern Ireland’s Department of the Environment. A poll of Radio Times readers in 2005 named the causeway as the fourth greatest natural wonder in the United Kingdom.

They say the causeway is the most popular tourist attraction in Northern Ireland.