The Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland is as intriguing as it is legendary and is amicably considered by the Irish as the 8th Wonder of the World. This fact cannot be disputed as the exquisitely beautiful rock formations are jam-packed with Irish folklore and mythology. Strangers to the area are easily swallowed by the sense of mystery and magic and cannot help being filled with the anticipation of a globetrotting adventurer when entering the mystical realm.
Situated on the rugged Northeast coast on the tip of the Antrim plateau, the unusual causeway is made up of thousands of interlinking basalt columns that have sprung up from the ocean and then systematically made their way down into the chilly blue ocean. The sheer scale of this wonderful sight has conquered many hearts and re-affirmed old beliefs in Irish myths, legends and superstition.
One of the more famous versions on how the rocks were crafted is the tale of the legendary Irish giant Finn McCool. Finn wanted easier access to his Scottish sweetheart across the water and built the entire causeway himself. This sounds viable as even today you will find males going to extraordinary lengths to win over their maiden.
Other interesting tales and folklore of Gaelic mythology include Finn McCool fighting and defeating Scottish giants on the causeway through either brutal strength or sheer wit. Lovers of folklore will be enthralled by the tales that have derived from the site. The ambience also heavily influences the general mood of the listeners.
At the end of the day one has to contend with the scientific facts that the rocks were formed thousands of years ago through heavy volcanic activity. The specific hexagonal shapes were determined by the rapid cooling effect on the lava once it squeezed through existing openings. Weathering and erosion are the other major influences on the distinct rock formation; particularly the circular tops which the locals affectionately call ‘giant eyes’.
The site has been declared a National Nature Reserve and has been listed as a World Heritage site; the only one in Northern Ireland. It is also officially one of the most significant Natural Wonders of the United Kingdom. It first drew considerable attention way back in the mid eighteenth century when watercolour paintings of the causeway won a major art competition.
Significant tourist attraction only started in the 1960’s after the National Trust made visits more viable. Visitors can easily stroll for about half a mile on the tops of the closely compacted columns. The slope down to the sea is gentle enough in some areas even for the elderly. This allows anyone to explore and soak in the wonderful surrounds and the expedition is also highly recommended as an ideal family outing. It is now the most visited place in Ireland and frequented by tourists from around the planet. A coastal sightseeing tour to the Giant’s Causeway is available from Allen’s Tours and is by far the most informative from Belfast.
Besides the breath taking display of the rock formations there are other truly amazing features and interesting historical facts about this incredible site. A hydro-electric tram was first built and used between Portrush and the causeway as early as 1883. This is a first for Europe and definitely an impressive feat at the time.
Another factor that makes this area absolutely fascinating is the natural fauna and flora. Botanists and plant lovers will find themselves in heaven when exploring the columns as the diversity of wildlife will not disappoint. Scots Lovage, Oysterplant and Devil’s Bit Scabios are but a few of the flora growing in the harsh conditions.
The sought after and very rare species such as the Vernal Squill and Frog Orchid could be a bit harder to find but is worth the effort. Bird varieties such as Oystercatchers, Wheatear and Guillemots frequent the area during the warmer summer season. Sea animals, butterflies and other insects are also abound during this time.
In 1986, when the causeway was declared a National Heritage Site by Unesco, a modern Visitor’s Centre was erected to keep in line with the new status and as a public information bureau. After a fire gutted the centre in the year 2000, another one was built in 2012. Needless to say that the new establishment has all the modern facilities and technicalities plus a superb design that will make any visitor feel right at home.