Wednesday, 10 August 2011

The Legend of Finn MacCool

August 10, 2011
You can’t be in Corrymeela for too long before you hear about Finn MacCool, the most famous giant in all of Ireland, who built the Giant’s Causeway, which is just a few miles from Ballycastle along the northern coast. The story makes its way into adventure learning, arts and crafts, and night time storytelling. There are many versions of the legend, but here is a shortened version of the one I’ve heard here at Corrymeela.
Finn MacCool roamed the Antrim Coast, and was 52 and a half feet tall. Finn wanted to fight his rival, a Scottish giant named Benandonner, so he built a path to Scotland. When Benandonner was out walking one morning and saw the newly laid path, he decided to visit Ireland. He searched the island for Finn’s cottage, and when Finn saw him coming, and saw that Benandonner was much bigger that he, Finn ran to his wife Oonagh and asked for her help, explaining that he thought he was in great danger.
Oonagh was a very clever woman, and put Finn into a bed, covering him with baby blankets. When Benandonnner burst into the cottage demanding to see Finn MacCool, Oonagh welcomed him in for Irish stew and tea. (Some versions have her offering him giant loaves of bread with an iron pot or stones in them, which broke the Scottish giant’s teeth!) When Benandoner saw how big Finn MacCool’s baby was, he became worried that Finn MacCool would be much bigger than that ... so he ran back to Scotland, tearing up the Causeway behind him.
So, here are a few things to know about the Giant’s Causeway:
The distance between the coast of Northern Ireland and Scotland is 11 miles. The Giant’s Causeway, one of the most popular and spectacular tourist attractions in all of Ireland, was formed about 65 million years ago when molten lava, deep in the earth’s core, began to pour out of cracks in the land.
The lava became hard and formed layers of rock, called basalt. After about 2 million years, the cracks in the earth opened up forming again and more lava flowed out. Some of this lava poured into a river valley where it cooled very slowly. As it cooled, it cracked evenly, forming the Giant’s Causeway - about 37,000 basalt columns, each with anywhere from four to eight sides. Once the ice at the end of the last Ice Age had gone, about 15,000 years ago, the shoreline was exposed. (I paraphrased these past two paragraphs from a children's book I bought - Finn's Cool Causeway, put out by the National Trust, UK, because my totally non-scientific brain almost understands it ...)
The rocks and columns really do look man-made. These boulders are rumoured to have once connected Ireland and Scotland - similar rock formations are found in nearby Scottish islands.
So, perhaps one can understand how stories get told about how this wonderful World Heritage Site came into being. In fact, tour guides are also quick to point out Finn’s boot, (that’s how they can figure out how tall he was!), the camel that he rode, and Finn’s pesky grandmother in some of the rock formations.
Both times that I have been to the Causeway it’s been a beautiful sunny day, which is a good thing because it’s a very long walk down to the stones (and of course, a very long walk back up!). These days, there is much construction going on to improve the facilities on site, but that doesn’t deter the thousands of folks that visit every day. From toddlers in strollers to seniors, backpackers, picnickers, and adventurers, folks walk and climb on the stones of Finn MacCool’s Causeway. Perhaps in some way, by doing that, we too become part of the story.

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