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'Sometimes the smallest step in the right direction ends up being the biggest step of your life.'

July 28, 2018

.'..Finn started to build a path to Scotland that he called the causeway. With his enormous hands he laid down thousands of rock. When Benandonner heard what Finn was doing he decided to build a path from Scotland to meet up with Finn’s path. The two giants worked vigorously for weeks building their paths...'


Whether the causeway had been built by a legendary giant or by natural phenomena is immaterial, as the UNESCO site, known as The Giants Causeway is an amazing sight.


Until recent times, it was challenging for a Catholic like me to visit Northern Ireland. Today, however, we take the short twenty-minute drive from The Dark Hedges, past the famous whiskey township of Bushmills, to the Giants Causeway Visitors Centre to see the pathway made by Finn McCool, if you believe the legend.


The visitors centre is busy, and after tickets are purchased, we walk through the double doors and opt to walk down the hill, rather than take the shuttle bus. Perhaps we'll need it on the way back.


The day has warmed, and the sun is beating down on our heads.  The unpredictable Irish good weather is still evident as we walk slowly on the steep path that leads from the top of the cliff to the shoreline. The jagged coastline, made up of dark grey and black basalt, is a natural defence against invasion by other nations in times past, and unlike coastal cities in the Irish Republic, there are no man-made fortifications here. We approach the small rocky bay, stones are scattered across the shoreline and reflect in the shallow water of the ebbed tide. I try to resist looking ahead, as I want to savour the view and be surprised when I reach the bottom of the hill.

Over a period of sixty-million years, volcanic action, molten lava, water, heat, and freezing during the last ice age had produced layers of basalt columns. The pressure between the columns formed uniform-sized hexagonal shapes, which are approximately 50 centimetres in diameter and up to  25 metres high. It is easy to see why people in the past thought that the 'tiled steps' had been built by a giant.


As I approach the shoreline, I join the hundreds of visitors, who are standing on various columns of rock. Some are close by, whilst many are silhouetted against the sky as they stand on a 'chimney' of columns standing high at the edge of the sea. As I pick my way over the stones, I marvel at the perfection of the tiles beneath my feet. Each of the stones are almost exactly the same size, some of the concave centres are still holding water from the last high tide. They lay like interlocked mosaics, with barely a space between. The black, tan, and reddish coloured bands, which had been caused by lava flowing through the fissures, add an interesting striped effect to the columns.


I sit on one rock surrounded by 'steps', and watch as visitors jump from stone to stone, column to column. I watch a security guard standing on one of the higher columns, closely monitoring tourists and calling their attention when they climb on areas that are deemed to be dangerous.

 As I step on one, then another, and another, I see patterns in the rocky tiles. A central stone, surrounded by 'petals', providing a floral design in the space beneath my feet here, and an almost zigzag effect over there. Ahead, the columns are surely taller than me. There is only one way to find out, and I climb through the various columns, standing between two, which tower over me.


I turn toward the seashore. There is a perfect rockpool nearby, filled with seaweeds and tiny shell-creatures. The water is evaporating, exposing the weeds. A seaweedy-fishy aroma fills my nostrils as I peek into the water, hoping to see a limpet, or a winkle, or even an urchin in the water. People are sitting on the top of the shorter columns, comfortably watching the seascape beyond. It is a peaceful place, and despite the large number of visitors, surprisingly quiet. Perhaps they are in awe of their surroundings like me.

It is hard to believe that it is almost six o'clock in the evening. The sun is still fairly high in the sky, as long northern summer twilight lasts well after 10pm. We have a fair distance to travel this evening, and its time to say goodbye to this place of extraordinary geology. It doesn't matter to me that these stones are not really unique; there are more on the other side of the sea. If it were not for the matching ones in Scotland, perhaps the legend of Finn McCool would not have remained a much-loved story in Ireland.



Title Quote: Emma Stone

Excerpt from:Irish Myths and Legends <<>>

Accommodation: Groarty House & Manor B&B,  62 Groarty Rd, Londonderry BT48 0JY, UK 

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