Giant’s Causeway

Clusters of dark basaltic pillars form a cascade of natural skyscrapers from the cliff’s lush green edge down to the water’s grasp, where they dissolve into the perfect blue demise of the Atlantic. It’s like reaching Maslov’s hierarchy of needs immaculately expressed in Nature. It’s a 60 million year old volcanic burial ground, littered with hexagonal tombstones that safeguard the Irish fairytales of Paleocene princes and princesses. If the rainbow ever really ended somewhere, it would be here.

“Really? You see all of that?” my friends ask dubiously, squinting their eyes at my inked skin. “To me, it kind of looks like you just burned your arm.”

Naturally, Irish people are a little better at deciphering my tattoo. “Well fuck me! It’s Giant’s Causeway!” they exclaim, adding a layer of Guinness spit to the seascape. “You’ve gone and put the damn thing on your arms, have you now? You Americans are mad!”

“Lads, come over here and have a look at this!” They shout across the bar to their friends. “How much is the National Trust paying you then? Enough to buy me another drink?” Of course, I feel obliged to award them for their keen sense of local geography, and one can never have too many Irish friends.

Giant's Causeway Tattoo

Giant’s Causeway is a UNESCO World Heritage site that sits on the breathtaking coastline of County Antrim, Northern Ireland. It is an established jewel along a spectacular 33 mi/52km coastal walking route that includes Dunluce Castle and Carrick-a-rede Rope Bridge. As the halfway mark between the historically tumultuous cities of Derry and Belfast, it also serves as the perfect point of reflection for the many tourists who come to trace the path of the Troubles in these parts.

When the history of a place becomes too heavy to bear, there is something soothing about watching the water hurl itself against the rocky shore. A subtle release of tension perpetually hangs in the salty air. Whatever we have learned, whatever has hurt us, whatever didn’t work, we can leave it here – on these tiny little altars – and the waves will swallow it up. Make it disappear.

I first found myself humbled by the majestic rocks of Giant’s Causeway in 2007. At that time, the old vistor’s centre had burned down and ownership disputes had stalled any plans for a new one to be built. This meant that a small void had been left, where on certain fortuitous occasions, you could slide along the banisters of Northern Ireland and stumble upon this stairway to the sea as if it were still a wild landscape, relatively untouched by too much tourism.

“Go on, just have a look over that wee cliff there,” My Irish friend had instructed me. I looked at him warily, certain that this was another one of his pranks to give me a good scare, but I was also a good sport. I peered out over the edge of the cliff and let out a gasp of amazement. Back then, there were no smartphones to explain what I was looking at; I depended wholly on the whimsical whisper of my companion who immediately began to tell me the greatest fairytale I’d ever heard.

The Tale of Giant’s Causeway
(*there are many variations, but this is the one that was told to me that day)

 A long, long time ago, there were two great giants in the land: Finn McCool (Fionn mac Cumhaill) of Ireland and Scotland’s Benandonner. One day, Benandonner decided that he was tired of hearing of Finn McCool’s victories. He wanted to prove that he was the greatest giant of all the land, not Finn. And so, he began to build a bridge from the southern coast of Scotland to the northern coast of Ireland in order to challenge Finn McCool to a fight. Finn McCool heard of Benandonner’s intentions and began to worry if he could win. Benandonner was a giant to be reckoned with. Finn discussed it with his mother, however, and like all mothers, she was a clever one, and she quickly came up with a plan.

Soon, Benandonner finished his bridge to Ireland and he arrived knocking on the door of Finn McCool’s home. Finn McCool’s mother answered the door. “Ohh, I’m sorry, but Finn McCool isn’t home right now. He’s down south fighting a dragon,” she said. “But you’ve come all this way, why don’t you come in and have a wee cup of tea?”

Benandonner agreed, but when he entered the house, he was startled by an enormous baby in a crib by the hearth. What he didn’t know is that it was really Finn McCool in the crib, dressed up like a baby.

“Who’s that?” Benandonner exclaimed, alarmed by the sheer size of the creature.

“Ohhhhh, he’ll do you no harm,” Finn’s mother assured sweetly. “That’s just Finn’s wee little brother there. Not even a year old! He’s sweet, isn’t he?”

Benandonner did not agree. If that was Finn’s wee brother, he reasoned, Finn McCool must be three times the giant! Realizing that he was in over his head, Benandonner ran out the door and fled back to Scotland, ripping up the bridge (or causeway) as he went.

So that’s how the Irish giant, Finn McCool, came to be the cleverest giant in the land, and why this strange basaltic rock formation extends halfway out into the ocean today.

I didn’t believe a word of the story that my Irish friend was spinning as we bounded down the coastline, but we eventually came upon some informative signboards that told the same tale, complete with the seal of the National Trust.

“You people are crazy,” I laughed. “You’re supposed to put facts on these signs. Not some silly story you made up with your friends at the bar.”

“Nah. Facts are overrated,” he shrugged. “The world is a much more interesting place when it’s full of giants and fairytales.”

When we finally reached the rocks, the inner child in us sprang gleefully from our souls and demanded to climb them. So we did – howling and hooting and making our way through the miniature city. We sat on the rocks like kings on thrones, we jumped on them as if they were time-travel portals, and we embraced them like pagan gods. When we ran out of ideas for play, we followed the rocks out to the sea, where they became more slippery and impossible to navigate without injury. We taunted the sea and the sea taunted us back, throwing itself against our fortress walls with unchecked might. We laughed at its attempts to take us.

“People have been swept out to sea here!” my friend shouted over the surge, but we just laughed harder because we were twenty years old, just two invincible giants, taking on the world.

On bad days, I find myself putting my wrists together and escaping to Giant’s Causeway. It’s my own version of Dorothy’s ruby slippers in the Land of Oz. I can just disappear. And if the moment presents itself, I happily tell the story of the legendary Benandonner and Finn McCool to everyone I meet because I never grow tired of it.  Like a true Irish fairytale, it only gets better and deeper every time I repeat it. My listeners almost always shake their heads in amused disbelief as a slow gleam creeps into their eyes. It is a gleam that tells me what the Irish have already known for centuries: “Life is definitely better with giants and fairytales.” There is no place like Giant’s Causeway.

– Ashley

Giant's Causeway


Giant’s Causeway sits just shy of Bushmills, a town best known for its whisky, and forms a part of a spectacular coastal path along the Northern Ireland coast. You can find information about its walking routes, prices, and opening hours on the highly informative official Giant’s Causeway website here. Using the Northern Ireland railways, you can get off in Coleraine and link up with a local bus (Ulsterbus 172) that will leave you at the entrance to the Visitor’s Centre.

While arriving via public transport is feasible, we recommend walking. You can help the environment, stretch your legs, and make the most of the unforgettable views. If you arrive on foot, by bicycle or public transport, you will receive a £2 pound “green discount” off your £9 ticket.


Bushmills Whisky Distillery

Take a sip at Ireland’s oldest working distillery, so hip that the Bank of Northern Ireland decided it would grace the back of their newly-issued banknotes, (ironically replacing Queen’s University in Belfast).

Dunluce Castle

The ruins of Dunluce Castle, built in 1500 by the MacQuillan family, provide another vantage point from which to enjoy the gorgeous views and local folklore. You can access the castle by car by taking the A2 out of Portrush on the way to Bushmills. We recommend driving there while listening to Led Zeppelin’s 1973 LP Houses of the Holy, as this place served as the inspiration for their album artwork.

Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge

Luck will need to be on your side if you decide to visit the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge because for obvious reasons (it swings and sways!), it is only open in good weather conditions. Traditionally, the bridge was used by Atlantic salmon fishers as a way to reach the island and haul up their catch, but nowadays, there are no salmon left.

Isle of Staffa (Scotland)

You can find the remains of the other half of the causeway on the Isle of Staffa in Scotland and I am told that it is equally epic. I haven’t been there yet, however, because I’m not sure I’m quite ready for my next tattoo.

Main photo credit: Marie Jirousek, mariejirousek, Flickr


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  1. June 18, 2016

    I really love your blog.. Great colors & theme.

    Did you make this amazing site yourself? Please reply back as
    I’m looking to create my own personal website and would like to find out where you
    got this from or just what the theme is named. Kudos!

    • elbigmonday
      June 21, 2016

      Hi Amy! Thanks. The theme is called Tracks. 🙂

  2. Lily
    June 17, 2016

    Ashley, you definitely have a talent for writing!! Thank you for sharing 🙂 I hope to visit this place one day.

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