Geological structures can be gargantuan, and the Giant’s Causeway in Ireland is pretty much that and, some more. The Giant’s Causeway is a phenomenon of pure geological (or perceived mythological) processes. Situated on the edge of the Antrim Plateau in Northern Ireland, the Giant’s Causeway is made entirely out of igneous rock, namely basalt. The periodicity of volcanic activity is quite large, and such widespread volcanic outbursts only occur with a gap of several million years. The Giant’s Causeway, according to geologically recorded data, was created by tectonic activity around 50-60 million years ago. Pillars were formed out of the eruption, which were interlocked through the heat released by the lava outburst.
In 1986, The Giant’s Causeway and Causeway Coast were declared as a World Heritage site by UNESCO. This year 2016 marks the 30th anniversary of its world heritage status. Giant’s Causeway has been called as a novelty of Northern Ireland by CNN’s award-winning journalist John D Sutter, and is described as a ‘golf course’ like visual treat made of symmetrical hexagonal rock cut outs. The sheer symmetry of the Causeway, however, raises questions about the mode of its formation. Prof. C D Merrill’s notes from his visits to the Causeway describe the composition of the pillars: one-half flinty earth, one-quarter iron and one-quarter clay and lime. He questions its formation, and also looks at comparisons between similar, albeit smaller structures in other parts of Ireland. “As we stand and contemplate its wonderful formation, the mind is flooded with questions as these: how far does it extend under the land and how far under the sea? how and when and under what conditions did it come into existence, and what is that mysterious power of nature that can thus transform the molten rock into forms of such magnitude and beauty?” notes Merrill. It is interesting to look at how natural structures can be considered as Built Heritage, since they may contribute to interdisciplinary study. The sheer size of the structure, which is crafted entirely out of this volcanic rock, propelled the creation of popular myths and tales about giants stomping their way into Scotland using the ‘Causeway’. There are variations of the myth that describe a giant, Finn McCool, who is said to have caused the formation of the Causeway.
McCool wished to traverse to Scotland to face an enemy. The enemy (named as Benandonner) is said to have destroyed some parts of the causeway, in order to ensure that McCool would not follow him back. The Causeway itself was believed to be created by McCool, who flung chunks of the Antrim Coast into the sea to create a sort of passage to Scotland, to engage in combat with Benandonner. The enemy, Benandonner, is depicted to be much larger in size than McCool in these myths, causing McCool to flee back, with the larger giant following him and destroying parts of the newly created Causeway. This is believed to have resulted in the formation of rock cut outs. The twist in the myth is actually quite humorous, as it involves McCool’s wife dressing him up as a baby. Banandonner is then mortified, looking at the very size of the baby, wondering how big the father would be. This caused him to retreat.
A lot of locals ‘like’ to believe that these myths are true, since they form the very fabric of their culture. These myths may be exaggerated, but all the folklore related to the gargantuan Giant’s Causeway is a reflection of the cultural palette of the country to which it belongs. Despite the fact that these colloquial myths about the Giant’s Causeway are highly improbable, it is important to look at how cultural myths and beliefs regarding tangible and intangible culture lead to the formation of a united stream of consciousness when it comes to their perceptions. The Giant’s Causeway is looked at as a symbol of Irish culture, since it is so deeply rooted in Irish myth and culture. The geological vastness of the area is probably what propels people to glorify these myths and tales. Cultural perceptions are heavily interdisciplinary, and they lead to several other consequences, and when it comes to the Giant’s Causeway, the perceptions of myths and science together create a feeling of novelty and cultural pride for the very structure. Heritage is perceived with a pride that exceeds other aspects of culture, since it forms a part of the novelty of a culture, and it is but natural that mythic context and substantiations are often propagated in order to exaggerate the notions of a cultural framework.