Giant's Causeway and Causeway Coast World Heritage Site
Chaussée des Géants et sa côte, United Kingdom
MARINE PROTECTED AREA
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The Giant's Causeway (known in Irish as Clochán an Aifir or Clochán na bhFómharach) is an area of about 40,000 interlocking basalt columns, the result of an ancient volcanic eruption. It is located in County Antrim on the northeast coast of Northern Ireland, about three miles (4.8 km) northeast of the town of Bushmills. It was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1986, and a National Nature Reserve in 1987 by the Department of the Environment for Northern Ireland. In a 2005 poll of Radio Times readers, the Giant's Causeway was named as the fourth greatest natural wonder in the United Kingdom. The tops of the columns form stepping stones that lead from the cliff foot and disappear under the sea. Most of the columns are hexagonal, although there are also some with four, five, seven and eight sides. The tallest are about 12 metres (39 ft) high, and the solidified lava in the cliffs is 28 metres thick in places.
The Giant's Causeway is today owned and managed by the National Trust and it is the most popular tourist attraction in Northern Ireland.
Some 50 to 60 million years ago, during the Paleogene period, Antrim was subject to intense volcanic activity, when highly fluid molten basalt intruded through chalk beds to form an extensive lava plateau. As the lava cooled rapidly, contraction occurred. While contraction in the vertical direction reduced the flow thickness (without fracturing), horizontal contraction could only be accommodated by cracking throughout the flow. The size of the columns is primarily determined by the speed at which lava from a volcanic eruption cools. The extensive fracture network produced the distinctive columns seen today. The basalts were originally part of a great volcanic plateau called the Thulean Plateau which formed during the Paleogene period.
Legend has it that the Irish warrior Fionn mac Cumhaill (Finn McCool) built the causeway to walk to Scotland to fight his Scottish counterpart Benandonner. One version of the legend tells that Fionn fell asleep before he got to Scotland. When he did not arrive, the much larger Benandonner crossed the bridge looking for him. To protect Fionn, his wife Oonagh laid a blanket over him so he could pretend that he was actually their baby son. In a variation, Fionn fled after seeing Benandonner's great bulk, and asked his wife to disguise him as the baby. In both versions, when Benandonner saw the size of the 'infant', he assumed the alleged father, Fionn, must be gigantic indeed. Therefore, Benandonner fled home in terror, ripping up the Causeway in case he was followed by Fionn.
Another variation is that Oonagh painted a rock shaped like a steak and gave it to Benandonner, whilst giving the baby (Fionn) a normal steak. When Benandonner saw that the baby was able to eat it so easily, he ran away, tearing up the causeway.
Another version of the legend was that Fionn had spent many days and nights trying to create a bridge to Scotland because he was challenged by another giant. A fellow boatsman told him that the opponent was much larger than he. Fionn told his wife and she came up with an ingenious plan to dress Fionn like a baby. They spent many nights creating a costume and bed. When the opponent came to Fionn's house; Fionn's wife told him that Fionn was out woodcutting and the opponent would have to wait for him to return. Then Fionn's wife showed him her baby and when the opponent saw him he was terrified at the thought of how huge Fionn would be. He ran back to Scotland and threw random stones from the causeway into the waters below.
The "causeway" legend corresponds with geological history in as much as there are similar basalt formations (a part of the same ancient lava flow) at the site of Fingal's Cave on the isle of Staffa in Scotland.
The discovery of the Giant's Causeway was announced to the wider world in 1693 by the presentation of a paper to the Royal Society from Sir Richard Bulkeley, a fellow of Trinity College, Dublin, although the discoverer had, in fact, been the Bishop of Derry who had visited the site a year earlier. The site received international attention when Dublin artist Susanna Drury made watercolour paintings of it in 1739; they won Drury the first award presented by the Royal Dublin Society in 1740 and were engraved in 1743. In 1765 an entry on the Causeway appeared in volume 12 of the French Encyclopédie, which was informed by the engravings of Drury's work; the engraving of the "East Prospect" itself appeared in a 1768 volume of plates published for the Encyclopédie. In the caption to the plates French geologist Nicolas Desmarest suggested, for the first time in print, that such structures were volcanic in origin.
The site first became popular with tourists during the nineteenth century, particularly after the opening of the Giant's Causeway Tramway, and only after the National Trust took over its care in the 1960s were some of the vestiges of commercialism removed. Visitors can walk over the basalt columns which are at the edge of the sea, a half mile walk from the entrance to the site.
The Causeway has been without a permanent visitors' centre since 2000, when the last building burned down. Public money was set aside to construct a new centre and, following an architectural competition, a proposal was accepted to build a new centre which was to be set into the ground to reduce impact to the landscape. A privately-financed proposal was given preliminary approval in 2007 by the Environment Minister and DUP member Arlene Foster. However, the public money that had been allocated was frozen as a row developed about the relationship between the private developer Seymour Sweeney and the DUP. It was also debated whether a private interest should be permitted to benefit from the site - given its cultural and economic importance and as it is largely owned by the National Trust. Coleraine Borough Council voted against the private plans and in favour of a public development project, and Moyle District Council similarly signalled its displeasure and gave the land on which the previous visitors' centre stood to the National Trust. This gave the Trust control of both the Causeway and surrounding land. Ultimately Mr. Sweeney dropped a legal challenge to the publicly funded plan, and the National Trust (supported by National Lottery funds) are expected to complete the new centre by 2012.
Some of the structures in the area, having been subject to several million years of weathering, resemble objects, such as the Organ and Giant's Boot structures. Other features include many reddish, weathered low columns known as Giants Eyes, created by the displacement of basalt boulders; the Shepherd's Steps; the Honeycomb; the Giant's Harp; the Chimney Stacks; the Giant's Gate and the Camel's Hump.
The Giant's Boot
The Chimney Stacks
The area is a haven for sea birds such as fulmar, petrel, cormorant, shag, redshank guillemot and razorbill, while the weathered rock formations host a number of rare and unusual plants including sea spleenwort, hare's foot trefoil, vernal squill, sea fescue and frog orchid.
Although the basaltic columns of the Giant's Causeway are impressive, they are not unique. Basalt columns are a common volcanic feature, and they occur on many scales (because faster cooling produces smaller columns). Similar sites include: the flood basalts of the Columbia Plateau of eastern Washington state, the Prismas basálticos de Santa María Regla in Hidalgo, Mexico, the Los Tercios waterfall in Suchitoto, El Salvador, Fingal's Cave and the 'Kilt Rock' on Skye in Scotland, east coast of Suðuroy, the Faroes, Svartifoss in Iceland, Jusangjeolli in South Korea, the Garni gorge in Armenia, the Cyclopean Isles near Sicily, Devils Postpile National Monument in California, Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming, the Organ Pipes National Park just outside of Melbourne, Australia, the "Organ Pipes" formation on Mount Cargill in New Zealand, the "Rocha dos Bordões" formation in Flores, the Azores, near Twyfelfontein in Namibia, Gành Đá Đĩa in Vietnam,Cape Stolbchatiy in Russia, Coloanele de bazalt in Racoş, Romania, Fingal Head in New South Wales, Australia, the Hong Kong National Geopark in High Island Reservoir in Hong Kong, China, and on St. Mary's Islands on the west coast of India and in Riyom, Nigeria.
Dowth • Knowth • Newgrange • Monknewton • Newgrange cursus • Townleyhall passage grave
Skellig Michael • Giant's Causeway (Northern Ireland)
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