Bleary eyed after only a few hours of sleep, I made my way down Malone Road. I was unaccustomed to waking up at 8 am on a Saturday, but on this particular day I had good reason to be up so early.
The walk I was making would take me to the Jury’s Inn in the Belfast City Centre, where I would meet up with other Arcadia students from across The Republic of Ireland and board a bus for the Giant’s Causeway, an ancient natural landmark on the Northern Irish coast.
I had seen photos of the Giant’s Causeway, and as with any piece of natural wonder, they could do nothing to prepare me for the actual site. In the same way, my own photos and videos barely do the place justice, but I’ll do my best to convey what I felt and saw.
The first thing that strikes you on seeing the Giant’s Causeway is its remoteness. Sure, there’s a visitor center, a parking lot, and of course a gift shop, but aside from that there’s nothing for miles around. Looking out from the parking lot, you can see (and even more so hear) the waters of the North Atlantic Ocean. Giant’s Causeway or no, this would be a place of terrible natural beauty regardless. The soft rain falling was whipped into chilling projectiles by the brutal wind, and as we made our way down the long path to the causeway, we could barely keep our footing.
Speaking into a microphone synced to the headsets we had each been given, our guide told us of the Causeway’s history. He told us that it was only in recent years that this site had achieved protected status--it used to be the site of much fishing activity, a dangerous undertaking in the rough waters. In past days, even the rocks of the Causeway weren’t safe from destruction--people would apparently take them away and used them to cobble streets. Nowadays, however, the Causeway is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is maintained by the National Trust.
As the guide finished his account of the place’s natural history, we reached the bottom of the hill, turned a corner, and ourselves presented with this view:
What the photos can’t convey are the atmospheric conditions of the place. More than the way it looks, what is most striking about the Causeway is how it feels. It’s as if you’re standing on the edge of the world, in one the last truly wild places. You dare not stand too close to the edge, lest a gust of wind sweep you into the icy depths below.
As we beheld this sight, our guide explained how the place got its name. According to Gaelic legend, the place was once home to Irish giant Finn McCool (Fionn mac Cumhail). Across the water in Scotland there lived another giant, Benandonner. After Benandonner challenged him to a fight, Finn McCool built a bridge across the water. As it turned out, however, Benandonner was much larger than Finn McCool imagined, and so when he saw him he fled back across the bridge to Ireland. Benandonner pursued him, but Finn’s wife dressed Finn up as a baby and put him in a cradle in order to fool Benandonner. Once Benandonner saw “baby Finn,” he was so scared of how huge the adult Finn must be that he ran all the way back to Scotland, knocking the bridge into the sea as he went. What remains today is the Giant’s Causeway.
True or not, it’s a marvelous story, one of many I’ve had the pleasure to hear in my travels in Ireland.
I’ll leave you with this video I took of the waves crashing against the shore near the Causeway. It gives some sense of the place’s majesty.