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Finn McCool & the Giant’s Causeway: Irish Folklore, Myths & Legends – Part 1

Posted on Mar 08, 2017 by Dawn Rainbolt

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). Ireland is full of folklore, myths & legends. In a series of articles, we’ll take a look at some of Ireland’s most interesting stories of myths and legends. 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.

Hiking on the Giant's Causeway - Ireland Giant's Causeway myth

Hiking along the mythic Giant’s Causeway in search of Finn

The story goes like this….

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 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.

Giants Causeway

Finn’s Giants Causeway stretching out towards the horizon and Scotland’s Isle of Staffa.

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!

Fingal's Cave, Isle of Staffa

Welcome to Fingal’s Cave on the Isle of Staffa. Look familiar?

Benandonnar hurries away retreating back to Scotland, tearing away bits of the causeway as he retreats to the Fingal’s Cave on the Isla of Staffa. 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 water – at least culturally, as the Giant’s Causeway myth is mirrored in the name.

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?

Myths and legends regarding Giant's Causeway, Northern Ireland Giant's Causeway myth

Waves crashing on the legendary 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 a have 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?

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Come with us to explore the Giant’s Causeway myth, a legendary natural marvel in Northern Ireland!

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Want to travel at your own pace? Check out our Self Drive: Belfast, Giant’s Causeway & Donegal.

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About the author

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Dawn Rainbolt

American by birth but European in spirit, Dawn has called the US, Costa Rica, Spain, England, Poland, France and now Ireland home over the years. While she has travelled to more than 30 countries, she has fallen in love with the rich Irish culture and sweeping landscapes of Ireland. Armed with a Masters Degree in Tourism Marketing and a love of writing and photography, she is Wilderness Ireland's Marketing Executive since 2017.

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