Amazing Places

Giant's Causeway Has A Natural Explanation That's More Impressive Than Its Myth

If you're anything like us, when you see Giant's Causeway for the first time your immediate reaction is: no way. That can't have been made by nature. We hate to break it to you (and us), but you're wrong—this collection of seemingly identical stone hexagons was formed entirely from natural phenomena. In fact, the real reason behind it may be even more awe-inspiring than the myth.

Giant's causeway

How Is This Possible?

In 1693, Sir Richard Bulkeley, a fellow of Dublin's Trinity College, announced the discovery of a very strange phenomenon on the northeast tip of Ireland. (In fact, as the Giant's Causeway website points out, the real discovery was made a year earlier by the then Bishop of Derry, but we digress). Immediately, it caused a heated debate. Some people agreed with the natural explanation, while others thought it had to have been carved by men with chisels. A third group had a more fanciful explanation.

That explanation involved a border dispute between two giants. On the Irish side was Fionn mac Cumhaill, a.k.a. Finn McCool, who Badass of the Week describes as "the biggest, toughest, and most epic hero to ever grace the Emerald Isle." On the Scottish side was the giant Benandonner, who hurled insults at Finn from across the water. Enraged, Finn grabbed chunks of coastline and hurled them into the sea, forming a path he could follow to reach the Scottish giant and give him a pounding. Unfortunately, Finn misjudged Benandonner's massive size, and he had to retreat to his wife, who disguised him as a baby. Benandonner saw the giant-sized baby, imagined how big his daddy must be, and backed off. Giant's Causeway tour guide Eleanor Killough tells, "We give our visitors the two sides of the coin – the stories and the science and let them decide, but most visitors leave believing this place is an ancient home of a mighty giant."

The Molten Truth

The real story begins 60 million years ago, when intense volcanic activity forced molten rock through fissures in the chalk bed to form a super-flat lava plateau. A second period of volcanic activity sent lava through more fissures in that plateau. The lava cooled at different rates, causing the rock to contract and form the column structures the Causeway is famous for. Although it may seem like the coast is made up of thousands of perfectly hexagonal stones, that's only an illusion. The shapes vary, and some have up to eight sides. It just goes to show that myth can be impressive, but nothing beats science.

Is there something you're curious about? Send us a note or email us at editors (at) And follow Curiosity on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Watch And Learn: Our Favorite Content About Cool Destinations

Taking a Hike to Giant's Causeway

Written by Curiosity Staff February 23, 2017

Curiosity uses cookies to improve site performance, for analytics and for advertising. By continuing to use our site, you accept our use of cookies, our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.