Myths & Legends of the Causeway
The Giant’s Causeway, near Bushmills, has been drawing thousands of tourists from near and far with its mystery and rare geological formations, however, long before modern transport made the journey (slightly) more accessible for travellers to make their way to the County Antrim Coast and the UNESCO World Heritage site situated on one of its most northerly points, people have wondered about the story of how it came to be.
From our article on the Geology of the Giants Causeway here, we know how the Causeways 40000 or so Hexagonal shaped columns were actually created, through Volcanic activity around 60 million years ago.
However, this still does little to take away from the magical atmosphere that permeates around the mighty columns of the Causeway, seemingly adding to the myths and legends that have been passed down from generation to generation told by local storytellers for millennia.
Finn McCool (otherwise known as Mac Cumhaill in Irish ) was a legendary warrior in Irish mythology associated with the Finnian’s (An Fhiannaíocht in Irish), a tribe of peoples who inhabited Ireland before the Celts. In most tales about this legendary warrior, he is not said to be a giant, however, in the myths around the Causeway, he is made out to be a giant of extraordinary height. Some tales are said he stood 54 feet, or 16 meters, tall.
Ireland, Scotland and the Isle Of Man share mythological stories that have Finn playing a central role. For example in the case of the Causeway, it is sometimes said to be a collection of stepping stones that allowed Finn to travel at will between the Causeway and the Scottish Coast without getting his feet wet.
Fingals Cave, Staffa Island
The link to Scotland is in principle to the similar collection of hexagonal columns that appear in a cave on the Scottish Island of Staffa just a short crossing from the North Antrim Coast. Indeed on a clear day can be seen from the elevated points around the Causeway.
Other stories claim that Finn built the Causeway as a way to get over to The Isle of Staffa and meet a Scottish female giant that he was in love with and bring her back to Ireland to marry her.
The most common legend told, however, revolves around a rivalry and an excellent piece of deception.
As the video above says, a Scottish giant named Benandonner, otherwise known as the Red Man (an Duine Dearg in Scots Gaelic), was believed to roam the West Coast of Scotland. Mac Cumhaill and an Duine Dearg did not see eye to eye and Finn challenged his Scottish rival to a fight while they shouted and threatened each other from across the Sea of Moyle.
Building a Causeway from rocks he found along the Antrim coast, so he could reach his biggest enemy, Finn completes his new crossing only to find that Benandonner is bigger an enemy in more ways than he first thought.
Upon crossing the Causeway, Finn realises that Benandonner is, in fact, significantly more prominent than he first thought. Recognising this he Instantly regrets making the threats and challenging the Scottish foe to a fight, Mac Cumhaill hoped to make it back to Ireland without being noticed by the Scottish giant.
Unfortunately for Finn, he is spotted as he makes his way back and Benandonner gives chase to the Irish warriors home, thought to be in Fort-of-Allen in Co. Kildare….although this is some way from The Giants Causeway!
As Finn runs as fast as he can back home to Ireland, he loses one of his boots and sadly this is no Cinderella story, as the boot was to remain exactly where it was and is still visible at the Causeway today.
With the Scottish giant now across the sea and in Ireland, his massive size is even more evident as Fionn and his wife can feel the tremors of him approaching their house, they are forced to plug their ears with moss to deafen out the sounds of the giant’s approaching footsteps.
Fionn, finding himself in a pickle he was unsure he could get out of alive, turns to Oonagh, his wife, who ingeniously saves the day, by wrapping Finn in a sheet and telling him to settle himself into a babies cot. When Benandonner arrives at her door, she welcomes him, apologising that Fionn is currently out hunting deer.
Welcoming the Scottish Giant into her home, she points out the various weapons adorning the walls that she claims are Finn’s but in reality, would be much too large and heavy for a man of Finn’s size to carry.
As is customary in Ireland, she offers to make Benandonner Fionn’s favourite meal while he waits, instead Oonagh cooks a cake of griddle-bread baked with the iron griddle pressed inside it, on which the Scottish Giant breaks three front teeth, and followed this with a strip of hard fat nailed to a block of red timber, on which the giant loses a further two teeth.
With the Scottish Giant starting to feel he’s bitten off more than he can chew, Oonagh then asks if the visitor would like to meet their new baby and the Scot is shocked and terrified when he sees the size of their “son” who is, of course, Finn wrapped up in a sheet.
Assuming his Irish foe is enormous if this is just his child, the Benandonner makes his excuses to Oonagh, and flees back across the Causeway, destroying it in his wake.
As the legend goes, with Scottish Giant in full flight, Fionn is believed to have grabbed a chunk of stone from Antrim and thrown it after him to scare him from ever venturing back to Ireland again.
The Isle Of Man
The chunk of stone missed, however, and what remains in between is said to be where the Isle of Man comes from. The area where Fionn had taken the stone from later filled with water and is said to have become Lough Neigh, the largest lake in Ireland.
As with so much folklore and legends, many versions are not always told the same way. Some stories saying that Fionn was asleep in bed when Oonagh heard the Scottish giant coming and took it upon herself to hide him.
Other stories we have heard, say that the Causeway was never completed and the rivalry never came to a head as both giants fell asleep from all of the hard work of just building the passageway across the sea of Moyle.
Possibly the most gruesome tale told, however, says that the “baby” Fionn bit off the magic middle finger of Benandonner, causing the giant to lose all his strength, and leave Ireland for good.
Whatever version is told, they make for great stories. Many of these can be seen and heard in the Giants Causeway Visitor Centre.
Have you heard another version of the Giants Causeway Story? Why not tell us and have it written here