The story of Finn MacCool and the Giant’s Causeway

Ireland is a land of tall tales and ancient myth, and the legend of Finn MacCool and the Giant’s Causeway is one of the most widely spoken.

Passed down from generation to generation, as if inherent to our collective Irish identity, are great legends like the story of Finn MacCool and the Giant’s Causeway.

Storytelling is a part of ancient Celtic culture. It’s as old as the hills and as native to the Emerald Isle as the mother tongue itself.

Here we serve up a bite-sized summary of the Giant’s Causeway legend, the history of Irish mythology, and the attraction in question.

History – a glimpse of Irish mythology

Irish mythology dates back to pre-Christian Ireland. It is one of the characteristics of Irish culture, and Ireland is still considered today to be the land of tall tales and ancient myth.

At the arrival of Christianity in Ireland, many of these stories were documented. While not all of these texts survived history, the accounts have been orally preserved throughout centuries.

Four significant mythology cycles are associated with Irish legends: the Mythological Cycle, the Ulster Cycle, the Fenian Cycle, and the Historical Cycle.

In addition to this, there are folk tales that fall outside these four categories but are similarly spoken of in the modern day. The story of Finn MacCool and the Giant’s Causeway would fall into this latter category.

Who was Finn MacCool? – the legendary giant

The history of Finn MacCool and the Giant's Causeway.
Credit: commons.wikimedia.org

Finn MacCool is a character oft seen in ancient Irish legend; his name can also be spelt Fionn mac Cumhaill and Finn McCool.

In mythological texts, Finn MacCool was portrayed as a hunter-warrior. He is also seen in legendary texts hailing from Scotland and the Isle of Man.

The stories surrounding Finn MacCool and his followers, the Fianna, are the foundation of the Fenian Cycle – one of the four mythological cycles, as mentioned above. The Giant’s Causeway myth, however, is better classified as everyday folklore.

What is the Giant's Causeway?
Credit: Flickr / Daniel Mennerich

The Giant’s Causeway is one of Ireland’s most stunning natural attractions.

Located in County Antrim in Northern Ireland, the UNESCO World Heritage Site consists of around 40,000 interlocking basalt columns that slide from land into the sea.

This geological phenomenon is a result of an ancient volcanic fissure eruption. Today, it is one of Ireland’s most famous natural tourist attractions, as well as being the site of the Giant’s Causeway legend.

The legend – the story of Finn MacCool

The story of Finn MacCool and the Giant's Causeway.
Credit: commons.wikimedia.org

The story of Finn MacCool and the Giant’s Causeway goes something like this:

Northern Ireland was once home to a giant called Finn MacCool. When another giant, Benandonner from Scotland, threatened the Emerald Isle, MacCool – in a fit of rage – tore up the Antrim landscape and flung its pieces towards the sea.

The result was a pathway from land to sea for Finn MacCool to reach his nemesis: Benandonner. The tables turned, however, when MacCool realised the absolute might of Benandonner.

Retreating in haste, MacCool’s savvy wife came up with the ingenious idea of disguising him as a baby. When Benandonner finally arrived and saw this humongous infant, he was overwhelmed with fear: if that is the size of the child, how large is the giant Finn MacCool himself, he thought.

Flooded with horror, Benandonner made a swift exit from the Emerald Isle, destroying as much of the Giant’s Causeway path as he could along the way in a bid to put as much distance between himself and the powerful Finn MacCool.

What we see today is said to be what is left of the path that once the giants walked between Ireland and Scotland. And there you have it: the story of Finn MacCool and the Giant’s Causeway.

When to visit – according to crowds and weather

The Giant's Causeway.
Credit: Tourism Ireland

The Giant’s Causeway is an epic sight to visit when in Northern Ireland or if planning a whistle-stop tour of Ireland.

Summer sees the greatest amount of visitors, so if you’re looking for a more laidback experience, we would advise spring or autumn when the weather is still somewhat balmy, and there is less footfall.

Things to know – useful info

Find out more about the story of Finn MacCool and the Giant's Causeway at the visitor's centre.
Credit: Tourism Northern Ireland

There is an interactive visitor centre on-site with interesting exhibitions sharing insight on this natural phenomenon. Here, you can also find out more about the Giant’s Causeway myth.

Shuttle buses are onsite to bring you down to the Causeway and back. However, the walk itself is not too challenging for those of a reasonable fitness level. We’d advise leaving time to enjoy the stunning cliff walks in and around the Giant’s Causeway.

It’s also worth noting that although you can pay for access to the visitor centre and shuttle, the Giant’s Causeway can be experienced free of charge as it’s a public space.

What’s nearby – other things to see

Head to Bushmills for a bite to eat.
Credit: Facebook / @Bushmills140MainStreet

Make time to explore the nearby town of Bushmills, where you can grab a lovely homemade lunch at Tartine at the Distillers Arms.

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