General Knowledge

The Irish myth of the Giants Causeway

On the coast of Northern Ireland, a vast plateau of basalt slabs and columns called the Giant’s Causeway stretches into the ocean.

The scientific explanation for this is that it’s the result of molten lava contracting and fracturing as it cooled in the wake of a volcanic eruption. But an ancient Irish myth has a different accounting. According to legend, the giant Finn MacCool lived happily on the North Antrim coast with his wife Oonagh.

Their only disturbance came from the taunts and threats of the giant Benandonner, or the red man, who lived across the sea in Scotland. The two roared insults and hurled rocks at each other in dramatic shows of strength. Once, Finn tore up a great clump of land and heaved it at his rival, but it fell short of reaching land.

Instead, the clump became the Isle of Man, and the crater left from the disturbed earth filled with water to become Lough Neagh. The giants’ tough talk continued, until one day Benandonner challenged Finn to a fight, face to face. And so the Irish giant tossed enough boulders into the sea to create a bridge of stepping stones to the Scottish coast. Finn marched across in a fit of rage.

When Scotland loomed before him, he made out the figure of Benandonner from afar. Finn was a substantial size, but at the sight of his colossal enemy thundering towards him, his courage faltered.

With one look at Benandonner’s thick neck and crushing fists, Finn turned and ran. Back home, with Benandonner fast approaching, Finn trembled as he described his enemy’s bulk to Oonagh. They knew that if he faced Benandonner head on, he’d be crushed. And so Oonagh hatched a cunning plan – they needed to create an illusion of size, to suggest Finn was a mountain of a man whilst keeping him out of sight.

As Benandonner neared the end of the bridge, Oonagh stuffed her husband in a huge cradle. Disguised as an enormous baby, Finn lay quiet as Benandonnner pounded on the door. The house shook as he stepped inside. Oonagh told the enraged visitor that her husband wasn’t home, but welcomed him to sit and eat while he waited. When Benandonner tore into the cakes placed before him, he cried out in pain for he’d shattered his teeth on the metal Oonagh had concealed inside.

She told him that this was Finn’s favorite bread, sewing a seed of doubt in Benandonner’s mind that he was any match for his rival. When Finn let out a squawk, Benandonner’s attention was drawn to the gigantic baby in the corner. So hefty was the infant swaddled under piles of blankets, Benandonner shuddered at the thought of what the father would look like.

He decided he’d rather not find out. As he fled, Benandonner tore up the rocks connecting the shores, breaking up the causeway. What remains are two identical rock formations: one on the North Antrim coast of Ireland and one at Fingal’s Cave in Scotland, right across the sea.

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