FORMATION OF THE GIANTS CAUSEWAY

Who discovered the Causeway?  The discovery of the causeway has widely been attributed to the Bishop of Derry (Londonderry) who visited there in 1692 and  subsequently brought word of its existence to the learned circles in Dublin and hence to the courts of London. A year later in 1694, a fellow of Trinity College, Sir Richard Bukeley,  presented  a paper to the Royal Society in Dublin which outlined this 'amazing' discovery and so started the debate on  how it was formed Also in 1694 and contributing in depth to this debate were the Reverend Dr. Samual Foley and  Dr.Thomas Molynuex.  At that time theories abounded about its formation, from it being created by men with tools to a natural occurrence or by the giant 'Finn MacCool'. While the Bishop may have brought knowledge of its existence to a wider world,  the first witnesses to this natural phenomenon would have been the hunter's and gatherer's who settled at Whitepark Bay after the last ice age (10,000 years ago), they would have travelled around the then densely forested  north coast by boats and  would have come across the causeway on their travels, perhaps from them that the enduring myth and legends of Finn MacCool arose.

Scientific facts -  The causeway  was formed during the early Tertiary period some 62 - 65 million years ago over a long period of igneous activity. Three lava  outflows occurred known as the Lower, Middle and Upper Basaltic. Lulls occurred between the outflows as is evident in the deep  inter-basaltic layer of reddish brown 'lithomarge' which is rich in clay, iron and aluminium oxides from weathering of the underlying basalt. The causeway area would have been situated in an equatorial  region at that time,  experiencing  hot and humid conditions. This came about due to the fact that the earth's crust is floating on moving plates known as 'tectonic plates', these move slowly but over millions of years they can  travel thousands of miles. The hexagonal columns of the causeway occur in the middle basalt layer, the same formations can be seen at Staffa  in Scotland (Fingal's Cave) and they also occurs in the the surrounding landscape of North Antrim and in fact many other parts of the world. 

The fascinating pattern that we see in the  causeway stones formed as a result of rock crystallization under conditions of accelerated cooling,  this usually occurs when  molten lava comes into immediate contact with water, as happens today in Hawaii, the resulting fast accelerated cooling  process causes cracking and results in what we see today at the causeway. For more information on volcanism please follow the link to the right where you will find references volcanic activities and their outcomes including 'column jointing' as occurs at the causeway.

Finn's Story - There are many heroic legends surrounding Finn MacCool, comparisons have been drawn between him and the legend of King Arthur.. Finn was reputed as being the leader of the Fianna, the guardians of the King of Ireland, however, in this section we will concentrate on his role in building the Giants Causeway. The story goes thus - Finn MacCool was going about his daily duties on the north coast when one of his adversary, a Scottish giant, started shouting and ridiculing his fighting prowess. This angered Finn who lifted a lump of earth and pelted it to Scotland  as a challenge to this giant.  The Scottish giant retaliated with a rock back  to Finn shouting that if he could get his hand on him, he would make sure that Finn would never fight again but adding that unfortunately he could not swim the short distance across the Channel, so Finn would be spared that fate.  Finn got enraged by this and tore large pieces from the cliffs,  he pushed them into the ocean bed and made a  sturdy causeway to Scotland, when he had finished he shouted 'Now you'll had no excuse'.   Fearing to lose his own reputation and pride the Scottish giant had no alternative but come over the causeway.  Finn was tired, he had not slept for the week he worked on the causeway and did not feel ready for fighting. He thought about how he could buy some time and recuperate to face the Scottish giant and came up with an ingenious plan. Quickly he made a large cot disguised himself as a baby and  climbed inside...... and waited.  The Scottish giant arrived at Finn's house shouting, 'Where is that coward MacCool', he noticed the crib and the baby inside it and his eyes widened in fear, he thought to himself, my goodness if this is the size of the baby? What size is the Father?. Finn climbed out of the cot and towered above the Scottish giant, this terrified him even more and in fear of meeting the father of this child he turned on his heels and ran like he had never ran before, back across the causeway to Scotland destroying it as he went, well, that is one version of the story - there are many more to choose from, including one of love and romance.

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