At the top of Northern Ireland is a curious landmark of strange shaped stones that stands overlooking the sea, facing Scotland. This is the Giant’s Causeway. Scientists tell us that it was formed by volcanic activity, but as my tour guide pointed out, there are no volcanoes around. So how exactly did this landmark come to be?
The Irish have a legend to explain the formation of the causeway that dates back to so long ago, no one really knows what the true myth was. As it often happens with Irish Mythology, the stories are so old and have been retold so many times, there are many ancient versions of each one.
My favorite version of this myth is about a well-known Irish mythological hero, Fionn Mac Cumhaill (anglicized as Finn McCool). Finn was a giant and the protagonist of several myths. In this story, Finn has a rivalry with a Scottish giant named Benandonner. He has never actually met Benandonner, but they have always mocked each other from their own coasts across the sea from one another. Finn decides he wants to fight this Scottish giant, but in Irish legend, giants hate to get their feet wet. He decides that in order to fight Benandonner, he should spend all night throwing rocks across the sea to form a bridge. In the morning, he crosses his bridge of rocks to sneak up on Benandonner, only to realize when he gets closer to Scotland that Benandonner is absolutely huge, even for a giant. Finn turns around and runs back to Ireland, losing a boot on the way.
When Benandonner turned around, he barely saw Finn sprinting across the causeway. He was absolutely livid and decided to cross over to Ireland to fight Finn. Finn runs back to his house and goes to his wife Oonagh (which is pronounced “oona”) because, as many Irish storytellers say, the best thing to do when you’re in trouble is to run to either your mom or your wife. Oonagh has Finn wrap a towel around himself like a diaper and stick his thumb in his mouth and tells him to go sit in the baby cot. Just as he does this, Benandonner arrives at the door and demands to see Finn McCool. Oonagh tells him that Finn is out at the moment, but he can come in and have a cup of tea while he waits. Benandonner sits in the kitchen and notices noise coming from the baby cot. He questions this and Oonagh tells him, “oh, that’s just the baby, Finn Jr. He’s the spitting image of his dad.” Benandonner looks at “Finn Jr.” and asks Oonagh how old he is. She tells him that the “baby” is about 3 months old. The Scottish giant exclaims, “If that humungous baby is only 3 months old, I don’t want to wait around to see the size of the father!” He runs all the way back to Scotland, breaking up the bridge along the way and leaving in his wake what is now known as the Giant’s Causeway.
My dad has another version of the story that he told my mom a long time ago where the causeway was created as a way for Finn to run away from his nagging wife. This is pretty funny to me, because my dad says he can relate to Finn McCool because my mom is his nagging wife.
The causeway has some of the most stunning views in all of Ireland. I was lucky enough to get some great pictures of the many different parts. One of my personal favorites was the rock known as the Camel because it looks like an overturned camel. They say it was Finn’s pet camel, cleverly named “Humphrey” who is also included in several myths about Irish mythology. My mom used to tell me legends about Finn McCool all the time when I was growing up. I loved these stories so much, I even named my dog “Finn.” It was such a big part of my childhood, so I’m really happy I got to see where the legends of Finn McCool started. The semester is winding down pretty fast, but there’s still a few more posts coming up for #IrishRoots on #WeldonWednesdays, so be sure to check back here again next week!