Posted by: brigid benson | February 27, 2014

Postcard from: Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland

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A cracking story is hard to resist; for centuries tourists have visited the Antrim coast in Northern Ireland to discover the legend of an extraordinary causeway built across the Irish sea by the giant Finn  McCool.

The famous feud between Irish Finn and his giant Scottish rival Benandonner, culminated in Finn rising to Benandonner’s taunts. Flinging a pathway of rocks into the sea, he rampaged to Scotland. Discovering that mighty Benandonner was bigger than he had imagined, scaredy cat Finn fled home, losing a boot on the way.

Determined to end the feud, Finn’s wily wife Oonagh invited Benandonner for tea, an invitation he could not resist. Seduced by her charm, he made himself at home before discovering her gigantic baby in the cot. Wow! If the infant was that big, how immense must the dad be? Benandonner didn’t wait to find out. Oonagh’s plan to disguise her husband as an awfully big baby succeeded and so ended the feud.

Alternatively there is another history. That of volcanic activity and successive cooling and shrinking of lava flows to create this extraordinary Unesco World Heritage Site of around 40,000 interlocking basalt columns. While some say the curious hexagons are imbued with magic, most geologists would reserve judgement! Yet weirdly wonderful features bear everyday names, the wishing chair, the organ and Finn McCool’s boot.

The Giant's Boot

The Giant’s Boot

Fierce weather cannot diminish a visit to the Giant’s Causeway; for me the atmosphere is enhanced. Arrive early and you will have the storm lashed scene to yourself.

The atmospheric Antrim coast

The Antrim coast

At such times the geological marvel appears to me to have the air of a construction site strewn with curious rubble; as if workers have downed their tools and vanished. Wander by  wind blown seashell confetti, spaghetti mounds of seaweed, higgledy piggledy basalt columns and loosened rock ready to cascade from the hill.

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Geology on the move

Absorb the atmosphere while heeding warnings of danger, especially on wild wet days. Beware high waves, unfenced cliff drops, slippy rocks, high winds and steep steps.

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Mean and moody and on a wild winter’s day, distant coastal views are few.

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Yet on a clear day, Scotland is within sight.

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In the care of the National Trust  the geology and folklore of the causeway is explored in the Giant’s Causeway Visitor Centre, winner of many architectural awards for sensitive design inspired by the landscape.

the landscape...

the landscape…

the visitor centre...

the visitor centre…

I especially enjoyed artworks inspired by the causeway. Historically art has contributed hugely to the study of the site by distant ‘natural philososphers’  like Thomas Molyneux who, unable to visit, commissioned paintings from artist Susanna Drury. The ‘natural philosophers’ of our times are more commonly known as geologists.

East Prospect of the Giant's Causeway 1739  By Susanna Drury

East Prospect of the Giant’s Causeway 1739
By Susanna Drury

A more recent painting by Maurice Orr  is magnificent. Donated by Stephen Butcher in memory of his late father and mother, Maurice and Lilian Butcher, the atmospheric scene is a rich tribute.

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