Scientists believe that the Giant’s Causeway was formed about 60 million years ago.
At that time, Ireland and most of Europe would have been close to the equator and part of a much larger land mass. There were a series of underwater volcanic eruptions which sent molten lava bursting through the seabed and spreading across the bottom of the ocean.
As the lava came into contact with the sea water, it quickly cooled and solidified. The sudden cooling crystallised the rock and caused it to crack into the hexagonal shapes we see today.
Hexagonal rocks emerged on Antrim coast
Over the subsequent 60 million years, the huge land mass across the equator started to break up. Continental drift caused it to move slowly northwards forming the current land mass of Europe. The rock formation we now know as The Giant’s Causeway moved with it and although most of it remained covered by sea, a small portion became exposed on the coast of Antrim.
Or was it built by a giant?
According to Irish legend, the Causeway was built by the Irish giant, Finn MacCool. MacCool had grown tired of a Scottish giant called Benandonner shouting insults at him across the sea. Benandonner had been saying that if it wasn’t for the sea, he would go to Ireland and beat up MacCool. Having eventually had enough, MacCool built the causeway and invited Benandonner to come to Ireland and fight him.
MacCool exhausted after building causeway
But MacCool may have spoken too soon. After spending a week building the Causeway he was exhausted and needed a rest before he was ready to fight.
But Benandonner was eager for action and raced across the newly built Giant’s Causeway before MacCool was able to rest and recover. MacCool realised he needed to stall Benandonner so he could have time to recuperate.
Irish giant dressed as a baby
He got his wife Una to dress him as a baby and he went to sleep in a large cot. When Benandonner arrived at MacCool’s house, Una said her husband was out but he was looking forward to the fight and would be back soon.
In the meantime, she invited Benandonner in for tea and cake. She introduced Benandonner to her ‘baby’ and the Scot started to get nervous. He thought to himself, if the baby is that big what must the father be like?
A baby that could ‘bite through stone’
Una then put some stone in Benandonner’s cake which chipped his tooth. The baby MacCool had no problem eating his cake as it had no stone in it. This made Benandonner ever more nervous: if the baby could bite through stone, the father must be terrifying.
Benandonner decided he didn’t want to fight MacCool after all. He fled back to Scotland and ripped up the Giant’s Causeway as he went so there was no chance of MacCool following him.