The Fourth River

The Giant’s Causeway: a Trail, a Tale, and Transformation

By on February 5, 2016

By Athena Wintruba, assistant editor, The Fourth River


Myth envelops the northeast coastline of County Antrim in Northern Ireland, as illustrated by the fact that the Giant’s Causeway’s very name has been adopted from its creation myth. It is said that Irish giant Finn MacCool built the rock path to Scotland to challenge rival giant Benandonner. When Finn discovered just how large his nemesis was, he raced home, instead donning a bonnet and hiding in a crib. Fearing the girth of the father who could produce a baby Finn’s size, Benandonner fled destroying the causeway as he went.

Science instead insists that The Giant’s Causeway was formed sixty million years ago from the most common lava rock on Earth: basalt. My heart tells me there is nothing common about this rock. Shades of earth and onyx jut out from the ground at varying heights, each a perfectly shaped hexagonal tower. They invite the adventurer toward the shore one stepping stone at a time. The shape and form tell a story of lava thick as mud spewed forth and cooled just as quickly, forcing the magma to contract and crack in places in order to avoid shattering entirely. It is the rock’s accommodating and adapting which happens to form the famous hexagonal columns.

I too contort to adapt to pressure both internal and external. It’s comforting to know that it will pay off in beauty, and that there may come a time when my world is finally steady. A moment of peace to marvel at – not how the world has shaped me – but how I shaped myself in spite of it.

As I follow the horseshoe trail around, a wooden gate and a sign that reads “No Access. Dangerous Unstable Cliffs” greets me. From a space at the top of the cliff, more than one hundred feet above me where columnar basalt once stood, instead the ledge vomits a waterfall of rocks and earth.

My heart aches for this place. From the moment the basalt formed, it has done everything in its power to avoid coming to this end. For all its efforts, this section did crumble. And the rest may crumble yet, leaving the entire coastline rubble. I’ve come to understand, however, a slope failure does not equal a total failure. Landslides are essential to the Giant’s Causeway as they “regularly expose soil and bedrock which are instrumental in the Site’s biodiversity.” They are a natural part of this ecosystem, disrupting the manmade trail to restore what is beyond and encourage new growth in what is left behind.

We too fear crumbling, because it often reveals the rawest, most painful parts. But if we are so focused on preventing disaster, we will never reveal those bits that prove most fertile.

I leave the Giant’s Causeway whispering a tiny word of thanks.


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