Once upon a time in a faraway place called Ireland, there was a mythological Irish giant called Finn McCool, also known as Fionn Mac Cumhaill (or Fionn Mac Cool). One of Ireland’s most prominent mythological characters was Fionn MacCool the Giant (of Giant’s Causeway fame).
This is part one in a series telling the stories of some of Ireland’s most interesting and intriguing folklore, myths and legends. Read part two about the Hag of Beara here.
Once upon a time, there was a mythological Irish giant called Finn McCool who got himself into a spot of trouble with a high-tempered Scottish giant called Benandonner who had made a claim for Finn’s island of Ireland.
Enraged at Bennandonnar’s claim to Ireland, the giant Finn McCool starts angrily throwing boulders into the sea off the Antrim coastline in Northern Ireland. Inspired by the way they fell into the water, Finn decided to use his boulders to make a bridge or a causeway – a Giant’s Causeway – all the way to Scotland’s Isla of Staffa. Using his causeway to Scotland, he could challenge his rival to a proper duel over the fate of Ireland.
In a mythical world where size dictates winners and losers, Finn realises he has underestimated his enemy – Benandonner is giant even for a giant! Brute force won’t work on him – so Finn quickly returns to Ireland via his Giant Causeway and decides the best way to beat Benandonner is to con him.
Leaving the Giant’s Causeway for Benandonner to find, Finn McCool’s wife disguises him as a baby. When his rival arrives, he finds Finn’s wife Sadhbh (pronounced “Siive”) tending her enormous baby giant. Realising that if Finn’s child was this big, Finn himself must be huge!
The Scottish giant Benandonnar hurries away, retreating back to Scotland with his tail between his legs. As he hurries home, he frantically tears away bits of the causeway, severing all ties between Scotland and Ireland to prevent Fionn McCool following him as he retreats to the Fingal’s Cave on the Isla of Staffa.
Incidentally, Fingal’s Cave shares a similar geology and appearance to the Giant’s Causeway! (Read about Fingal’s Cave on our sister company Wilderness Scotland’s website).
He is determined to leave Ireland and stay away from the giant Finn McCool, who regains undisputed control over Ireland once more.
Thus, the myth of the Giant’s Causeway was born.
It’s a nice story, isn’t it? And clearly, it holds some truth – at least culturally, as the myth of the giant Fionn McCool is mirrored in the name: the Giant’s Causeway.
But if you’d consider yourself more of a scientist, perhaps you like the alternative (and easier to prove!) scientific version of the birth of the Giant’s Causeway?
The UNESCO World Heritage site is the result of an ancient volcanic explosion some 60,000 years ago. The burning and quick cooling of the volcanic lava left a series of impressive 40,000 interconnected basalt columns hugging the northern Irish coastline forming the Giant’s Causeway, one of Ireland’s most iconic and impressive landscapes, as well as basalt columns of the tiny Scottish Isle of Staffa, remote an uninhabited but for birdlife.
Whichever story you prefer, well, the Giant’s Causeway is a place that you have to see to truly believe. So what are you waiting for?
Read the rest of the stories here and stay tuned – new myths will be added here.