Giants Causeway, Northern Ireland

Giants Causeway, Ulster

The Giants Causeway World Heritage Site in Northern Ireland has 40,000 tightly packed basalt columns that developed during volcanic eruption 60 million years ago. The site is on the north coast of Ireland, 3 km north of Bushmills in County Antrim. It became a World Heritage Site in 1986. The Giant's Causeway is now owned a by the National Trust. Most of the columns are hexagonal, but there are some with four, five, seven and eight sides. The tallest are about 12 metres high.

The columns formed when liquid molten rock was forced up through cracks in the chalk bed to form a lava plateau. The rapid cooling of the lava made it contract into hexagonal basaltic columns. You can see the same effect with mud on a lake bed drying in the sun under the right conditions.

Hegagonal bassalt rock columns, giants causeway

The Irish legend tells of the giant Finn McCool building the causeway to walk to Scotland to fight a Scottish giant, Benandonner. After an abortive foray, the Scottish giant pulls up the causeway. And today you can see similar basalt formations in Fingals Cave on the Scottish Island of Staffa.

The basalt columns of the Giant's Causeway are not unique. Similar rock structures exist in several places like the "Organ Pipes" formation on Mount Cargill in New Zealand. Devils Postpile National Monument in California, Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming, the Garni gorge in Armenia, the Cyclopean Isles near Sicily. These other columns are not as impressive as the Giants Causeway ones.

After eons of weathering, clumps of rock have been given names to describe what they look like - the Organ, Giant's Boot, Giants Eyes, the Shepherd's Steps; the Honeycomb; the Giant's Harp; the Chimney Stacks; the Giant's Gate and the Camel's Hump.

Bassalt Columns, giants causeway

Although many ships have been wrecked on these cliffs, the most famous was the "Girona" a ship of the Spanish Armada. It was laden with its own crew plus the crews of two other Armada shipwrecks, when her rudder broke just off the Giants Causeway. She hit Lacada Point at midnight on October 30th 1588 with the loss of over twelve hundred men. It is believed that there were only five survivors. They say that the survivors were aided by Sorley Boy MacDonnell of Dunluce Castle. Victims were buried in St. Cuthbert's Graveyard at Dunluce and some survivors are said to have married local girls.

In victorian times there were protracted legal disputes over access to the basalt columns. In 1897 a lengthy case battle the syndicate that owned the land, and local people who claimed historic access, resulted in the public being excluded from seeing the stones, unless they paid the syndicate for the privilege. The Causeway was bought by the National Trust in 1963 and there is free access to the public today.

The Causeway Tramway was re-opened in 2002. The original Giants Causeway tramway was developed by Col. William Traill of Ballyclough. He commissioned the Siemens Company to incorporate their new electric tramcar technology for the Giants Causeway Tramway. Col.Traill built the generating station at the Walkmill Falls and installed water turbines to produce electrical power for the tram line. The tramway opened in 1883 and was the world’s first commercially run 'hydro-electric' powered tram system. Although hydro-electric power was used, it was normally two steam locomotives that hauled the carriages. The line ran from Portrush to Bushmills with an extension added to the Giants Causeway. In 1899 the live rail alongside the track, was replaced by an overhead electric wire, steam haulage ended in 1916. The tramway eventually closed in 1949.


National Trust - Giants Causeway

Giants Causeway

Giants Causeway - World Heritage

Giants Causeway - Wikipedia


World Heritage Sites in Britain