Page last updated at 10:37 GMT, Friday, 22 January 2010

Giant's Causeway is Ireland's oldest 'rock star'


The Giant's Causeway on the north Antrim coast has won a £3m lottery grant. The site attracts hundreds of thousands of people every year and its visitors' centre will now move from a rickety set of huts to a proper building. Nuala McCann reports on the history of the Causeway and its draw for tourists across the world.

They call it the eighth wonder of the world. It is Ireland's oldest "rock star".

The Giant's Causeway on the north Antrim coast is a jagged promontory of hexagonal rocks created by a volcanic eruption sixty million years ago.

The columns of perfect, symmetrical rocks reach out into the wild Irish sea and millions of people come to stand and wonder at the savage beauty.

But the Irish love the story behind their causeway too.

Finn MacCool was a giant with brains as well as brawn.

It is said that he built the causeway so that he could do battle with a rival giant from Scotland.

When he got across to Scotland, he was daunted by the size of his enemy and beat a hasty retreat home again. But his wife, being a clever Irish woman, helped him hatch a cunning plan.

She dressed Finn up as a giant baby in a huge nightgown and bonnet. Then she put him in a huge cradle. When the Scottish giant came thundering across, she told him Finn was out but invited him in for tea, pleading with him not to wake the baby.

When the Scot saw the huge size of the baby, he took fright, saying if this was the child, he didn't want to meet the daddy.

He then beat a hasty retreat across the rocks, ripping up the causeway behind him as he didn't want the fearful Finn to follow him home.

Samuel Johnson
Sniffy: Dr Johnson damned the Causeway with faint praise

Visitors started arriving to view the unusual columns of rocks from the 1700s. They flocked to the site despite the lukewarm views of some, like Samuel Johnson - the 18th century essayist - who wrote that the Causeway was "worth seeing, yes; but not worth going to see."

But in defiance of Dr Johnson and the typical Irish weather, they still keep coming.

Last July was very wet, but 111,000 visitors arrived in that month alone.

Coach tour records for the month show visitors from Israel, Russia, China, Japan, Taiwan, Austria, Switzerland, Portugal, Malta, Mexico, Norway, Finland, Holland, Germany, Spain, France, Italy Greece, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and USA.

This is as well as coach tours from the UK and the Republic of Ireland.

In 1986, the Giant's Causeway was declared a World Heritage Site by Unesco.

In 2008, it was nominated as one of the world's seven natural wonders.

Finn would have been proud.

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Giant's Causeway gets 3m grant
22 Jan 10 |  Northern Ireland

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