Irish myths and legends ( 1 ) - The Giant's Causeway

by Veronica

I am fascinated by myths and legends and I hope to start doing some Irish myths and legends. Where best to start than with the most famous Irish myth of all? The Giant's Causeway.

The mythology of Ireland is long, vast and colourful. It developed out of tales told around the fire on stormy, dark nights in a beautiful landscape and seascape. The tales were elaborated on and embellished until we have a host of traditions and stories which every child in Ireland is raised on.

How do we distinguish a myth from a legend. ?

A myth is a story from long ago. Some were told to explain a geological, meteorological phenomenon. Some just developed from tales to entertain in days before electricity, TV film. It is usually logically impossible.

A legend is a tale from long ago which most probably has an element of truth in it and is usually about a place or a person.

Simply Beautiful

The Giant's Causeway, County Antrim, Northern Ireland.
The Giant's Causeway, County Antrim, Northern Ireland.
Belfast Telegraph

Giant's Causeway, County Antrim

What and where is The Giant's Causeway ?

The Giant's Causeway is in County Antrim on the north east coast of Northern Ireland.

It consists of tens of thousands of stone pillars like a pathway leading out into the sea. The stones are mainly hexagonally shaped although some are four, five, seven or eight sided. The tallest are nearly 40 feet high. They were formed by volcanic activity thousands of years ago. The volcanoes spewed out their lava and as it cooled it contracted and caused the spectacular shaped columns we see today; thousands of them like stepping stones.

It is a beautiful place looking out to Scotland over the sea, very ethereal and spiritual. The causeway runs under the sea between Scotland and Northern Ireland and indeed comes out on the other side in Scotland with another causeway. On the Scottish side, it is not accessible but it is still there. The Scottish Causeway therefore is not as well-known as the Northern Irish Causeway.

Volcanic activity shaped the stones

Look at the shapes
Look at the shapes
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Irish mythical creatures

  • puca- a mischievous shape changer, malevolent or benevolent
  • bean sidhe ( ban shee ) - a female spirit who foretells the death of a family member by wailing
  • dullahan - irish fairy
  • leprechaun- a little, drunk fairy shoe maker, beer drinker
  • merrow - a sea fairy
  • sideog ( she -og ) - an irish fairy
  • cluricaun - irish spirit who drinks anything alcoholic
  • Fear Dearg - a  mischievous spirit like a leprechaun but dressed all in red

The myth of the Giant's Causeway

Finn McCool

Given the traditions and the geology it is not surprising that a myth about such a beautiful place developed.

The giant Fionn (Finn) appears in a few Irish myths and legends

The Irish giant Fionn mac Cumhall (Finn McCool), was at home with his wife Oonagh one day when a stranger arrived and delivered a challenge to Fionn to fight a Scottish giant variably known as Angus, Cu Challain or Benandona.

Fionn accepted the challenge and worked hard to build a causeway across the sea so that the two giants could meet.

One evening Fionn came home and Oonagh was looking anxiously at him. She had heard that the Scottish giant was much bigger than Fionn and was definitely stronger.

Fionn announced that if he couldn't beat the Scottish giant by strength, he would beat him by being clever.

Oonagh promptly set to work sewing big baby clothes, disguised Fionn as a baby and put him in a big cot. When the giant arrived, Oonagh invited him in and said that he must not wake the baby. When the giant saw how huge “the baby" was he thought how HUGE Fionn, the baby's father, must be.

The giant ran back to Scotland across the causeway in fright, destroying the Causeway behind him, picking up the stones and throwing them down in the sea so that Fionn would not be able to follow him. Only a few stones remained jutting out into the sea.

The Scottish giant never returned to Ireland.

 

Updated: 05/17/2018, Veronica
 
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Veronica on 06/14/2018

TY yes. It is beautiful but take care.

frankbeswick on 06/14/2018

You need good footware for the causeway, as it can be very slippery.

Veronica on 06/14/2018

There are several Scottish legends and the Northern Irish coast is so close to the Scottish coast in parts, only a few miles.

The Giant's Causeway is very well maintained and the stone is very strong because it is the result of volcanic activity.

DerdriuMarriner on 06/13/2018

Veronica, Thank you for such a fascinating story hour! Does the Scottish Causeway harbor equivalent tales to make Angus/Benandona/Cu Challain look less dupe-able? Is there any environmental impact from the wear-and-tear of tourist traffic on the stones?

Veronica on 05/11/2018

Thank you. I shall add the cluricaun .

frankbeswick on 05/11/2018

You have omitted a fairy from your list of mythical Irish creatures. A cluricaun drinks anything alcoholic whereas a leprachaun only drinks beer.

frankbeswick on 05/11/2018

Basalt on the whole crystalizes hexagonally, but as you observe there is some variation from this pattern into five and seven sides columns, more rarely four and eight sided

Veronica on 05/11/2018

No not all the pillars are hexagonally shaped as I explained above, although most are. Indeed one of those pictured above is 4 sided.

It is a bit of a trek down to the Causeway from the Visitor's centre at the top but there is a free shuttle bus for those who don 't want to walk. It can be slippery underfoot so stout shoes are a good suggestion.

frankbeswick on 05/10/2018

The crystals are hexagonal, and they are cooled basaltic magma from about sixty million years ago. But here is a piece of advice: wear boots for the giant's Causeway, for shoes are inadequate.

Veronica on 05/10/2018

I think the unusual shape of the pillars is why the myths grew up around it. The mystery to it helped. The shapes and also the atmosphere around the location made myths inevitable. It is a very " moving " place to visit. I would recommend it. I had always wanted to go and went in 2012.


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